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When it comes to women-specific cancers, breast cancer takes a big chunk of the spotlight (for understandable reasons). However, there is another type of cancer, totally preventable, that we don't talk about in India. This is cancer of the cervix i.e. cervical cancer. The cervix is the lowermost part of your uterus.
While the incidence of this cancer in our country is on the lower side, a variety of factors including lifestyle changes has the potential to turn this into a bigger issue. Given the lack of appropriate sex education in our country and its treatment as a taboo topic, it is very important for young women to know about this and ways to prevent it.
Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, have a major role in causing cervical cancer. In many instances, HPV is effectively stopped by our body's immune system. But in a few cases, it may linger on for years, eventually causing cervical cancer.
Usually, early-stage cervical cancer shows no symptoms. However, later on, you may want to watch out for symptoms such as
Early sexual activity, multiple partners, STIs and weakened immune systems are major risk factors at play here.
But here's the good news too. There's a vaccine! The HPV vaccine - Gardasil 9 - is known to prevent or significantly reduce the chances of cervical cancer. Approved by the US F.D.A, it can be used for both girls and boys. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 11 and 12-year-old girls to receive 2 doses of the vaccine, at least 6 months apart. Girls in the ages of 15-26 would require 3 doses. The C.D.C also recommends catch up vaccinations for all people through age 26.
But there's a catch. The vaccine is effective mostly when given to girls before the age of 18 and/or before they become sexually active. But there's no reason why you shouldn't talk to your doctor about it.
Speaking of doctors, many women get squeamish about visiting gynecologists. This happens even when they have problems. However, it is very important to find a good doctor who you build a rapport with (read: non-judgmental). Once you have found one, get regular checkups done - especially PAP tests. In fact, many doctors recommend starting these from the age of 21 and then repeating it every few years. What else can you do to keep yourself safe? Practice safe sex.
We may not find many mothers or others of their generation willing to talk about these matters. In many cases, they may not even be aware of this. So, it becomes essential for women to make themselves and others around them aware of this. This means talking to your mother, your younger sister, your friends, your house help and even the men around you. If it can be prevented, why not? One less impediment to feeling better about ourselves and the world around us.