Cervical Cancer ranks as the fourth most common cancer affecting women worldwide, with a significant impact on mortality rates. In India, according to the 2020 National Cancer Registry Program (NCRP) report, a staggering 60% of patients were diagnosed at the locally advanced stage, highlighting the urgency for increased awareness and preventive measures.
As per World Health Organisation, cervical cancer is the fourth most prevalent malignancy among women. In 2018, an estimated 570 000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide, and around 311 000 died from the disease.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
“Persistent infection of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted DNA virus, stands as the primary causative factor for the development of Uterine Cervix Cancer. With over 140 types of HPV causing a spectrum of conditions, from asymptomatic viral infections to pre-malignant diseases and cancer, understanding and addressing this silent culprit is important in the battle against cervical cancer,” said Dr Harshit Shah, Associate Consultant-Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan.
Challenges in Early Detection: Symptoms and Societal Barriers
“Early symptoms of cervical cancer, such as intermittent bleeding or vaginal discharge, often mimic other conditions, leading to misdiagnosis,” said Dr Shah, adding, the social stigma surrounding doctor visits for cancer screening and the fear of precancerous conditions contribute to delayed diagnosis. Breaking down these societal barriers and promoting awareness is vital for ensuring early detection and intervention.
Holistic Treatment Approaches: Surgery, Radiotherapy, and Chemotherapy
“The treatment landscape for cervical cancer encompasses various modalities, including surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. Due to the advanced stage at which many cases are diagnosed, a majority of patients require multi-modal treatments. Understanding and implementing comprehensive treatment plans are essential in addressing the complexities associated with cervical cancer management,” said Dr Shah.
Empowering Women Through Screening: A Path to Prevention
“Despite being highly preventable and curable, cervical cancer continues to be a significant cause of morbidity and mortality globally. Secondary prevention, focused on early detection through screening, remains a cornerstone in the fight against this disease,” said Dr Shah.
The National Cancer Grid (NCG) of India has taken strides in providing basic screening setups across the country, emphasising the importance of widespread awareness and access to screening facilities.
Overcoming Societal Taboos: Bridging the Awareness Gap
“One of the significant challenges in combating cervical cancer in India lies in the lack of awareness and societal taboos associated with cancer screening. Encouraging women to undergo regular screenings and dispelling myths surrounding cancer diagnosis are important steps in ensuring that more cases are detected at an early, treatable stage,” said Dr Shah.
National Guidelines and Initiatives: A Beacon of Hope
The national guideline for cervical cancer screening in India targets women aged 30 to 59 years. These guidelines advocate for simple bedside tests, readily available in both private and government healthcare setups. The concerted efforts of organisations like the National Cancer Grid (NCG) play a pivotal role in implementing and expanding these screening initiatives, offering hope in the mission to reduce the burden of cervical cancer in the country.
Cervical cancer poses a formidable global health challenge, concerted efforts in raising awareness, overcoming societal barriers, and implementing robust screening programs can pave the way for early detection and effective management, ultimately saving lives and reducing the impact of this preventable disease.