Cervical cancer, caused by HPV virus (human papillomavirus) is preventable and can be treated in early pre-cancer and cancer stages. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her interim budget speech for 2024-25, suggested that the government would actively promote cervical cancer vaccination to fight the deadly disease. “Our government will encourage vaccination for girls aged 9 to 14 years as a preventive measure against cervical cancer,” Sitharaman said during her budget speech. A day after the budget speech on Friday model and reality TV star Poonam Pandey’s manager claimed the actress succumbed to cervical cancer. Pandey on Saturday shared she’s alive and took this step to raise awareness around cervical cancer. (Also read | Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: 8 benefits of HPV vaccine beyond cervical cancer prevention)
As Poonam Pandey’s controversial stunt shines spotlight on this deadly disease ahead of World Cancer Day, we asked experts how to identify signs and symptoms of advanced-stage cervical cancer.
“Advanced-stage cervical cancer may present with various signs and symptoms, indicating the disease’s progression. One notable indication is persistent pelvic pain, often radiating to the lower back or legs. Additionally, women may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as persistent white discharge, postmenopausal bleeding, spotting after intercourse which can be a concerning sign. Unexplained weight loss and fatigue are common in advanced stages, reflecting the impact of the disease on the body’s overall health. Bowel and urinary symptoms, like difficulty in urination or bowel movements, can occur when the cancer has spread to nearby tissues,” says Dr Rubina Shanawaz, Consultant Gynecologist, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road.
“As the cancer progresses, it may affect the surrounding organs, leading to discomfort during sexual intercourse. Swelling of the legs can be a result of the cancer obstructing blood flow in the pelvic region,” adds Dr Rubina.
“Advanced-stage cervical cancer may exhibit various signs and symptoms that indicate its progression and severity. It’s important to be aware of these indicators for timely intervention and treatment,” says Dr Ramesh B, Obstetrician, Gynaec Laparosurgeon, IVF Specialist & Urogynaecology, Fertility Specialist, Endometriosis Specialist, Altius Hospitals, Bengaluru.
SIGNS OF ADVANCED-STAGE CERVICAL CANCER
Dr Ramesh shares worrying signs of later stage cervical cancer that people must know.
1. Persistent pelvic pain is a common symptom of advanced cervical cancer. As the tumour grows and spreads to nearby tissues and organs, individuals may experience persistent or worsening pain in the pelvic region.
2. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is another hallmark sign of advanced cervical cancer. This includes bleeding between periods, after menopause, or during or after sexual intercourse. Such bleeding may indicate advanced cancer invading deeper layers of the cervix or nearby structures.
3. Pain during urination can occur as the cancer advances and involves the bladder. The pressure exerted by the tumour on the bladder can lead to discomfort or pain during urination.
4. Difficulties with urination or defecation may arise as advanced cervical cancer puts pressure on the bladder or rectum. This can result in challenges with both urination and bowel movements.
5. Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhea, or other alterations, may occur as the cancer affects nearby structures in the pelvis.
6. Unexplained weight loss is a significant symptom of advanced cervical cancer. As the disease progresses, the body’s metabolism may be affected, leading to significant and unexplained weight loss.
7. Back pain may develop as advanced cervical cancer spreads to the spine or nearby nerves, causing persistent discomfort.
8. Fatigue and weakness are common symptoms of advanced cervical cancer. The body’s response to the disease and its progression can result in chronic fatigue and weakness.
“In some cases, advanced cervical cancer may lead to the blockage of lymph vessels, resulting in swelling (lymphedema) of the legs. Bone fractures may occur in cases where cervical cancer has spread to the bones, leading to bone weakening and increased susceptibility to fractures,” says Dr Ramesh.
HOW TO PREVENT CERVICAL CANCER
“Preventive measures for cervical cancer include vaccination against HPV, regular screening tests like Pap smears and HPV tests, practicing safe sex, limiting sexual partners, smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy diet and weight, regular medical check-ups, and increasing awareness through education campaigns. These measures collectively contribute to early detection, risk reduction, and overall women’s health, empowering individuals to take proactive steps in preventing cervical cancer and promoting well-being,” suggests Dr Ramesh.
“Regular check-ups, pap smears, and HPV screenings are crucial for early detection. However, if any of these symptoms persist or become more pronounced, it is imperative to seek prompt medical attention. Timely diagnosis and intervention increase the chances of successful treatment and improved outcomes. Women should maintain open communication with their healthcare providers, ensuring that any concerning symptoms are addressed promptly,” adds Dr Rubina.
Highlighting the need to spread awareness around the deadly cancer, Dr Varsha Mali, emphasizes on the need for regular screening tests like pap tests and HPV DNA tests.
“Cervical cancer is a preventable and treatable condition, and it is important to curate awareness campaigns in order to empower individuals for them to be able to effectively navigate through the treatment process. Early detection significantly improves the chances of successful treatment of pre-cancers and cancer. In this regard, regular screening tests become essential – HPV DNA tests and Pap tests are cervical cancer screening options that could be undertaken post discussion with a health expert. Regular screening has been shown to prevent cervical cancers and save lives. At the same time, it is important for individuals to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, including abnormal bleeding or pelvic pain – as it can greatly help in avoiding any delay in the diagnosis process,” says Dr Varshali Mali, Senior Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology, Surya Mother and Child Super Speciality Hospital, Pune.
Role of vaccination in cervical cancer prevention
Vaccination is an important tool to protect against certain cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, say experts. A cervical cancer vaccine is a vaccine that protects against certain HPV strains, which are sexually transmitted infections that are known to cause cervical cancer.
“The most widely used vaccines, such as Gardasil and Cervarix, target the high-risk HPV types 16 and 18, responsible for most cervical cancer cases. These vaccines are most effective when administered before any sexual activity, ideally during adolescence, and are typically recommended for females aged 9 to 26. By inducing an immune response against HPV, these vaccinations help prevent persistent infections that can lead to cervical abnormalities and, ultimately, cervical cancer. Regular screening, such as PAP smears, remains important even for vaccinated individuals, as the vaccines do not cover all HPV strains associated with cervical cancer. Early vaccination and comprehensive healthcare measures play a crucial role in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer,” says Dr Mali.
“It is important to do regular exercise and practice safe sex in preventing cervical cancer and enhancing well-being. Whether through a brisk walk, dance, or yoga, physical activity proves a potent tool. Using condoms and limiting sexual partners is also a crucial preventive measure. Amidst this awareness, it’s crucial to acknowledge the role of the HPV virus in cervical cancer prevention,” concludes Dr Mali.