What is the cervix, and what is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the lowermost part of the uterus – a slim, cylindrical neck of tissue that connects the uterus to the vagina. It allows menstrual blood to flow from the uterus to the vagina, and sperm must pass through it to reach and fertilize the egg following sexual intercourse.
In India, cervical cancer contributes to up to 29% of all cancers in women. The figures are alarmingly high, and without any government-sponsored screening programs, the responsibility to understand and screen for cervical cancer falls upon us.
Cervical cancer happens when cells in cervix grow in an uncontrolled way and build up to form a lump (also called a tumor). As the tumor grows, cells can eventually spread to other parts of the body and become life threatening.
What causes cervical cancer?
Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, which is transmitted through skin to skin contact. There are several types of HPV, some more threatening than others. “Low-risk” types may cause genital warts, while “high-risk” types are linked to cancer.
In reality, HPV infections are extremely common, especially in women who have ever been sexually active. Usually, an HPV infection will clear on its own. It is only women with persistent HPV, the kind where the virus can’t be fought off by the immune system, that are at risk of cervical cancer.
What puts a woman at risk of cervical cancer?
The main risk of contracting cervical cancer lies in not getting regularly screened. Aside from this, those with weak immune systems or those suffering from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) will be more likely to contract cervical cancer.