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Centering the Cervixdek 

Jan/06/2024 / by team-seema

Though mostly preventable, cervical cancer still kills too many women. Here’s how to keep this preventable disease at bay.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women worldwide, after breast, colorectal, and lung. In 2020, there were an estimated 604,000 new cases in 2020, according to the W.H.O. That same year the disease killed an estimated 342,000—more than the number of women who died during pregnancy or childbirth. 

To help raise awareness of this preventable cancer, January has been named Cervical Health Month. More than 95 percent of cervical cancer is caused by sexually transmitted HPV.  Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection which can affect the skin, genital area and throat. Multiple strains of the virus are prevalent, but two main subtypes are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers. 

Almost all sexually active people will be infected at some point in their lives, usually without symptoms. In most cases the immune system clears HPV from the body. Persistent infection with high-risk HPV can cause abnormal cells to develop, which go on to become cancer. Typically, it takes 15–20 years for abnormal cells to become cancer, but in women with weakened immune systems, such as untreated HIV, this process can be faster and take 5–10 years.

South Asian women are subject to the same risk factors for cervical cancer, says New York-based gynecologist Adeeti Gupta. “Access to healthcare is specifically important for this demographic. Annual visits to your GYN are a must and getting regular pap tests are the best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer through early diagnoses. In addition, getting the HPV vaccine any time after the age of 9 is helpful in protecting you against the top high risk HPV strains that can cause cervical cancer.”

Gupta also points out the danger of a commonly held belief amongst South Asian Americans—that monogamy protects you from cervical cancer/HPV. “Do not assume that if you are in a monogamous relationship, you are safe,” she says. “Get routine annual exams and pap tests and if you have any bleeding after sex, abnormal bleeding or if things don’t feel right, just go and see a GYN.” 

Warning signs

Bleeding after sex and foul-smelling discharge can be signs of advanced cervical cancer. Early cervical cancer is unfortunately asymptomatic and can only be diagnosed by screening measures through a PAP test.

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