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The official Instagram page of actress and reality TV personality Poonam Pandey announced her passing this morning. Poonam, aged 32, succumbed to cervical cancer.

Pandey’s manager, Nikita, confirmed her passing to the Indian Express, stating, “She died peacefully at her residence in Uttar Pradesh.” The news came as a shock to many, while others expressed scepticism due to recent public appearances and social media activity.

Dr Manish Machave, consulting obstetrician, gynaecologist & gynaecological endoscopic surgeon, Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune, defined cervical cancer as a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control, primarily affecting individuals with a cervix.

Despite being preventable through vaccination and treatable if detected early, cervical cancer continues to pose challenges, especially in developing countries. According to Dr Machave, it is highly susceptible in those aged 30 and above.

This news coincides with the recent announcement from the central government to include the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in its national immunisation program. The inclusion of the HPV vaccine in the national immunisation program promises significant strides in protecting young women from this potentially life-threatening illness.

“The primary driver of cervical cancer is persistent infection with specific strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV, a prevalent virus transmitted through sexual activity, is encountered by at least half of sexually active individuals at some point in their lives. However, only a small percentage will develop cervical cancer as a result,” Dr Machave explained to indianexpress.com in an interaction.

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Other factors contributing to cervical cancer risk include early marriage, multiple pregnancies, and lack of preventive measures such as vaccination and screening, said Dr Machave.

Dr Thejaswini J, consultant – obstetrician and gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospitals, E-city, Bengaluru, added that early age sexual activity, unprotected sex, and tobacco/alcohol consumption can further increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.

“One of the key challenges we face is the lack of awareness among women. Many women do not come for Pap smear testing, which is an essential part of the overall health checkup for women of reproductive age, recommended every 1 to 3 years. However, as a gynecologist, whenever a sexually active patient visits us, we strongly advise them to undergo opportunistic screening, including Pap smear testing. Increasing awareness is crucial in addressing this issue,” she added.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer may manifest through various symptoms noted Dr Machave,  including:

  • Constant bleeding, spotting between periods, or after menopause.
  • Heavier and longer menstrual bleeding than usual.
  • Watery, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, particularly in advanced stages.
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse, as the cancer progresses and affects nearby tissues.
  • Pain during urination or blood in urine.
  • Weight loss without apparent reason.
  • Fatigue.
  • Swelling in legs.
  • Back pain or leg pain.
  • Difficulty in controlling urine or bowel movements in advanced stages.

How can cervical cancer be prevented?

Cervical cancer is preventable through various measures, according to Dr Machave.

HPV Vaccination: Starting between ages 9 and 12, with catch-up vaccinations available until age 26, significantly reduces the risk of cervical cancer. Vaccination schedules involve multiple doses administered at specific intervals, offering protection against HPV strains associated with cervical cancer.

Regular Screening: Pap tests and HPV tests are crucial for early detection. Routine screenings starting at age 21, repeated every few years, help detect precancerous conditions early, allowing for monitoring or treatment to prevent cervical cancer development.

Awareness and Education: Increasing awareness, especially in underserved communities, about cervical cancer, its symptoms, and the importance of vaccination and screening is essential for prevention efforts.

Access to Affordable Treatment: Ensuring access to affordable and quality treatment for diagnosed cases is vital, addressing financial barriers and disparities in healthcare services distribution.

January is marked as cervical cancer awareness month (Source: Freepik) January is marked as cervical cancer awareness month (Source: Freepik)

What does the treatment of cervical cancer include?

Treatment options for cervical cancer vary depending on the stage and severity but may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemo, targeted and immunotherapy at early levels.

Focusing on relieving symptoms and improving quality of life is of paramount need, especially in advanced stages where curing the cancer may not be possible.

The suggested age to start the vaccination is between 9 and 12 years, and individuals can receive catch-up vaccinations until the age of 26.

How often should a woman screen herself for cervical cancer and other forms?

Routine Pap tests are recommended, starting at age 21, and repeating every few years, said Dr Machave.

Dr Uma Dangi, consultant-medical oncology, Fortis Hospital Mulund & Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, said that cervical cancer screening should begin at the age of 30 years, or 3 years after the onset of sexual activity. Pap smear is the commonly used test for this purpose.

“It should be performed once every 3 years until the age of 65-70 years. Screening can be discontinued if the last three results have been negative. If an HPV test is included, the frequency can be reduced to every 5 years,” said Dr Dangi.

Other cancers that can be screened in women include breast cancer and colon cancer. For breast cancer, mammography is recommended once a year after the age of 45, with self-breast examination every month starting at the age of 20-25 years. For colon cancer, a stool test for occult blood after the age of 50 years, along with sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, can be considered. For individuals at higher risk, screening should commence at a much earlier age.

By 111 Tech

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