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            The Aga Khan University Hospital Pakistan

Understanding Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention

<p>​Cervical cancer is a highly preventable and treatable form of cancer, with a high chance of being cured if detected at an early stage. Vaccines and screening programmes to help prevent and effectively manage cervical cancer are available, but not to everyone. The limited access to such health services, especially in low- to middle-income countries, means cervical cancer remains a significant concern for women&#39;s health.</p><p>Globally, a woman dies from cervical cancer every two minutes, with nearly 600,000 new cases diagnosed every year. It is the fourth most common cancer in women around the world. In Pakistan, cervical cancer ranks as the third most frequent cancer among women. </p><p>It is more crucial than ever to understand the risk factors associated with this disease and what we can do to reduce its spread.</p><p><strong>The Main Culprit</strong><strong>:</strong><strong> HPV Infection</strong></p><p>The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of contracting cervical cancer. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that occurs in almost all sexually active people and is usually harmless. In women, however, persistent HPV infection of the cervix (entrance to the womb) can result in cervical cancer.</p><p>Taking proactive measures, such as early vaccination and consistent screenings, is crucial to mitigate the risks associated with HPV and safeguard against the development of cervical cancer.</p><p><strong>Smoking and Cervical Cancer</strong></p><p>Tobacco use increases the risk of cancer due to harmful chemicals weakening the immune system and negatively impacting cervical cell health. Moreover, smoking exacerbates the effects of HPV infection, increasing the likelihood of abnormalities progressing into serious conditions. Quitting smoking not only reduces the risk of cancer but also enhances overall health.</p><p><strong>The Impact of </strong><strong>a </strong><strong>Weakened Immune System</strong></p><p>Women with compromised immune systems, be it due to HIV infection, organ transplantation, or prolonged steroid use, are at an increased risk of cervical cancer. A weakened immune system struggles to fend off HPV infections, allowing the virus to persist and potentially cause changes in cervical cells. Seeking proper care and managing underlying conditions are essential steps to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.</p><p><strong>Cervical Cancer Symptoms to Watch Out For</strong></p><ul><li>Unusual vaginal bleeding (during intercourse, between periods, or after menopause)</li><li>Pain during intercourse</li><li>Abnormal vaginal discharge/discomfort</li><li>Loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue</li></ul><p><strong>How Can You Protect Yourself Against Cervical Cancer?</strong></p><p>Taking proactive measures plays a key role in reducing the chances of developing cervical cancer. Embracing lifestyle changes can significantly lower risk factors associated with this disease. </p><p>1. <strong>HPV Vaccination:</strong> Getting vaccinated against HPV can provide you robust protection against HPV infection and cervical cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following HPV vaccination regime:</p><p>- One or two-doses for girls aged 9-14 years</p><p>- One or two-doses for girls and women aged 15-20 years</p><p>- Two doses with a 6-month interval for women older than 21 years of age</p><p>2. <strong>Regular Screenings:</strong> Consistent screenings, like Pap tests or HPV tests, and follow-up testing allow for early detection of cervical cancer cells.

WHO recommends cervical screening every 5-10 years for women starting at age 30 (or early at age 25 every 3 years if living with HIV). Co-testing with HPV DNA detection is preferable. Remember that early intervention can prevent the progression of cancer and ensure timely treatment.</p><p>3. <strong>Smoking Cessation Program</strong><strong>mes</strong><strong>:</strong> Participating in programmes that help quit smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing cancer. There are support programs and resources to help people quit smoking and lead a healthier lifestyle.</p><p>4. <strong>Practicing </strong><strong>Safe S</strong><strong>ex</strong><strong>:</strong> Using condoms can lower the chances of contracting HPV and other sexually transmitted infections, thus reducing the risk of cervical cancer.</p><p>5. <strong>Maintaining a </strong><strong>Healthy D</strong><strong>iet</strong><strong>:</strong> Having plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with physical activity, can boost the immune system and overall health. This may decrease the likelihood of developing cancer.​
</p><p>Various factors contribute to cervical cancer risk, with HPV infection playing a significant role. However, you can reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer by getting vaccinated, undergoing screenings, making lifestyle adjustments, and practicing safer sexual behaviours. Empowering people with knowledge about these risk factors and promoting preventive measures are crucial steps in lessening the global impact of cervical cancer on women&#39;s health.
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