Every year, January is observed as the Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to spread awareness about this disease. Many people’s queries revolve around sexual health. Read on to know if your sexual lifestyle plays a role in you being diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is one of the most common cancers that affects women.
Cervical cancer is a major health problem in India. Still, there may be many facts about cervical cancer that you may be getting wrong. HealthShots got in touch with Dr Tejinder Kataria, chairperson, Radiation Oncology and Cancer Center, Medanta – The Medicity, Gurugram, to find out the connection between cervical cancer and unprotected sex, and more.
What is cervical cancer?
As a woman, you would know that cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (womb) which connects the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). Cancer in the cervix is called cervical cancer, says Dr Kataria. She notes that it is a major health problem in India, with many women suffering due to its late diagnosis.
High-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) are mostly responsible for cervical cancer. Most people who are sexually active get infected with HPV at some point during their life. Your body’s immune system overcomes most of the HPV and they go away. But about half of the HPV are high-risk and, if not treated, may persist for years. These may cause cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer and unprotected sex
There are times when you want to ditch the condom. But having unprotected sex can increase the chances of infection with HPV and other gonorrhoeal diseases, warns the expert. Casual sex without barrier can transmit the infections that can later be a causative factor for cancer formation or carcinogenesis, especially cervical cancer. So, always be safe. You can go for latex-free condoms too if you have allergy issues.
How long after unprotected sex can you have cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer develops very slowly, so you won’t know about cervical cancer right after having unprotected sex. It can take a few years or even decades for the abnormal changes in the cervix to become invasive cancer cells. Cervical cancer might develop faster in women who have a weak immune system, but it will still likely take at least five years.
Signs of cervical cancer
In some cases, the following symptoms of early-stage cancer may appear
• Vaginal bleeding after sex, between periods and after menopause
• Heavier or longer than normal periods
• Watery vaginal discharge which has a strong odour or contains blood
• Pelvic pain or pain during sex
Tips to prevent cervical cancer
1. Vaccination is a must
You need to start taking preventive measures even before turning a teenager. Vaccination against cervical cancer, starting between the ages of 9 and 11, is a must, says the expert. All women should get the vaccine by 26 years of age or before losing their virginity. Two or three vaccination schedules are recommended and can prevent cervical cancer in 99 percent of the women who complete vaccination.
2. Regular screening to detect precancerous lesions on cervix
This can be done by visual inspection with acetic acid or Lugol’s iodine. There are also Papanicolaou test (Pap test or Pap smear) and HPV DNA (Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid) test used for early detection and prevention of cervical cancer. A precancerous lesion like dysplasia grade1 may take 15 to 20 years to progress to cancer. It can be treated by surgical approach to prevent cervical cancer.