Stepping into the first month of a new year, we also enter a month of cancer awareness. January has been designated for this purpose, as cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, with an estimated 570,000 new cases each year.
From the Bangladeshi perspective, it is the second most common type of cancer in Bangladesh, with approximately 12,000 new cases detected every year, and over 6,000 deaths due to the severity of the disease.
As scary as this disease may sound, preventing it is just as simple. And that is what this month of awareness is all about — teaching common people what leads to cervical cancer, and how it can be prevented.
This can single-handedly prevent cervical cancer. Most cancers do not have any vaccines, but as the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, there is a vaccine for it. All girls, whenever she has reached reproductive age, which is around 13-15, should get vaccinated. Such a small and easy step can give you protection for a lifetime.
Just like breast cancer, screening for cervical cancer is a very good preventive measure. After reaching the age of 30, every woman must go for screening, at least once a year. Cervical cancer screening is now readily available and accessible for women from all types of socio-economic backgrounds, thanks to programmes initiated by the government and many health-related NGOs and non-profit organisations who offer free screening.
Getting married and having children before the age of 18 poses a huge risk in developing cervical cancer. The best time to have a baby is after the age of 20, to reduce risks.
ENOUGH BIRTH SPACING
Birth spacing refers to the gap between one pregnancy and the next. After having a baby, it is wise to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again, to avoid cervical cancer.
It goes without saying that personal hygiene prevents many types of diseases, and cervical cancer is no different. Keeping the cervix area clean is very important.
HAVING MULTIPLE PARTNERS
Sexual activity with more than one partner increases the chances of infection by HPV.
Oral contraceptives: Prolonged use of birth control pills may lead to cervical cancer.
Smoking: Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as women who do not smoke.
Food choice: Apples, pumpkins, carrots, avocadoes and dark leafy vegetables help fight cervical cancer. Include them in your regular diet to maintain a healthy cervix.
Know the signs and symptoms: Post-menopausal bleeding, unusual or heavier bleeding during menstruation, extreme pain during intercourse, bleeding after intercourse, increased vaginal discharge, unexplained pelvic and back pain are all signs of cervical cancer. If you ever face any of these, make sure to visit a doctor as soon as possible.