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Cervical Cancer Alert: The Importance Of A Pap Smear Test

posted on 7/23/2016 Facebook Facebook

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable gynecological cancers if diagnosed and treated in time. However, it is still the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in India. According to ''''Cervical Cancer Global Crisis Card'''' released by the Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition, India represents 26.4 percent of all women dying of cervical cancer globally. Annually, about 1.32 lacs of women are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer, while close to 70,000 women die of the disease.  

Understanding Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is the cancer of mouth of uterus or womb, known as cervix and is the commonest cancer among women in India. A woman dies of cervical cancer every eight minutes in the country. The most common cause of cervical cancer is an HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection which is mostly sexually transmitted. According to experts, the virus infects about 80% of all women under the age of 50 without them every knowing about it. The virus can remain dormant for years and the immune system of nearly 90% women will clear the virus on their own. However, the virus is not without a risk.

If a cervical infection with high risk HPV takes hold then the virus can cause cellular changes which can eventually cause pre-cancerous lesions which if not treated can progress to cancer. However, regular cervical screening can prevent cervix cancer by spotting the pre-cancerous lesions before they turn into invasive cancer. 

Prevent Cervical Cancer Through Screening 
There are three types of cervical screening methods:

1. Pap Smear: A pap smear test is the simplest and quickest test to screen a woman for cervical cancer or other abnormalities in her cervical region. The American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend every woman above the age of 21 to get a pap test done once in two years. This screen can detect abnormal cells that may develop into cancer if left untreated. The Pap test can also spot noncancerous conditions, such as infection or inflammation. 

2. HPV Testing: This test is used to look for high risk HPV types in the cervical cells which may be indicative of an infection. Catching the infection early can help in better treatment as well as curbing the spread of the virus and hamper them from developing pre-cancerous lesions. 

3. Genetic Testing: Data obtained through next generation sequencing methods has helped to understand the specific genetic mutations associated with various types of cancers. Researchers from the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute have identified marked genetic differences in the genome of cervical cancer patients which can help in better understanding and treat the disease. These genetic changes also serve as a marker for determining the risk of cancer which can help in early diagnosis and prevention.

When To Get Screened 
The WHO (World Health Organization) suggests that women as young as 21 years should get a pap smear test. If you’re 30 years or older you may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test and is recommended annually. The HPV vaccine (Gardasil) which was introduced in June 2006 is known to protect against most HPV strains particularly 16 and 18 which lead to cervical cancer. The most important thing to remember is that cervical cancer is preventable. Make sure you abide by the preventative screening methods to protect yourself. 

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