Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2023: Understanding The Importance Of Regular Screenings
In certain cases, HPV doesn't always cause symptoms, and here the only way to be sure of the cervical cancer status is through regular screening.
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2023: The teal ribbon wishes to bring attention to the CCAM
Just like how the pink colour represents breast cancer, Teal draws attention to the second most common malignant Cervical Cancer amongst women.
Over 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) high-risk genotypes like 16, and 18, which cause premature death among women in their reproductive years. In many women, HPV infection persists for a long period, and eventually progresses from precancer of the cervix to early and then invasive cancer. However, often women with HPV do not know that they are affected, the infection might continue lurking in the body until it shows symptoms. In certain cases, HPV doesn't always cause symptoms, and here the only way to be sure of the cervical cancer status is through regular screening.
How can one initiate screening?
When it comes to reproductive health, a woman should prioritize it and get herself checked with a doctor from time to time. Early diagnosis leads to saving lives. Stressing the need for prior detection, traditional screening methodologies like the Pap Smear test, visual inspection assay, and liquid-based cytology were being used to identify precancerous changes in a woman's body. In recent times detection of HPV DNA has become available rendering early detection possible. Early screening for HPV infection from the age of 25 followed by HPV testing every 5 years through the age of 65. If the changes in the cervical cells are found in the early stages, they can be diagnosed, treated, and cured. If not, the cancer cells will spread to other parts of the body. Hence, there is treatment available to prevent cancer, provided the diagnosis is done in time.
Why is screening still neglected?
Over the years, several agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO), have been advocating the importance of primary screening in diagnosing and managing cervical cancer. Despite these efforts, screening for cervical cancer has been widely neglected due to a lack of awareness and stigma associated with the disease. Cervical cancer's association with Human papillomavirus (HPV), makes women feel uncomfortable discussing their sexual health with the doctor, which leads to late diagnosis of signs and symptoms. Sample collection, an essential requirement for screening, is complex and cumbersome for women as they have to travel to their nearby healthcare facilities to perform the test under the supervision of an expert. Therefore, what we need at the hour is to debunk the myths associated with the disease and introduce more women-friendly screening formats that encourage women to opt for screening and reduce the increased incidence and mortality rates.
Screening has become simpler and easy-to-use
Today several screening methodologies have evolved, keeping a woman's comfort at the core. Self-sampling methods have simplified sample collection for women without the need for expert supervision. WHO has recently suggested that the HPV DNA test is the most efficient way forward for detecting high-risk genotypes in the asymptomatic stage.
(Dr. V Ravi, Virologist and Head of Research and Development, Tata Medical and Diagnostics)
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