Friday, November 27, 2009

Come Together To Fight Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer amongst women in India. The growing risk of this disease in the country is 2.4% compared to 1.3% of the world. Every hour, 10 women in South-East Asia lose their lives to this silent killer; of which 8 are Indians. The astounding fact is that 60% of women in the country have not even heard about cervical cancer! As a result, only a mere 5-6% take the diagnostic test for cervical cancer called Pap Smear. Given that Cervical Cancer is a disease where early detection is the key to survival, these figures sure ring an alarm bell.

The main underlying cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted and largely symptom less infection. A number of factors like early sexual advent and multiple sex partners increase the risk of cervical cancer by increasing the likelihood that a woman will contract an HPV infection. Several other factors influence whether women with abnormal cervical-cell changes go on to develop cancer. These include tobacco use, prolonged use of hormonal contraceptives, unhygienic living conditions and an impaired immune system.

Since 80% of the Indian population resides in the rural areas, women who fall in the economically backward strata are much more vulnerable to cervical cancer than their urban counterparts. Poor living conditions and low standards of health and hygiene in these areas expose these women to higher risks of this silent killer. Illiteracy, limited access to the television and internet has caused this particular section of women to be in the shadows about cervical cancer. Also, traditional taboos are a major reason for reluctance among rural women to seek medical assistance in gynecological matters. These reasons make it imperative that special attention be given to women in the rural areas.

This of course does not mean that the Indian urban woman is dwelling in conditions which bear a stronger protective shield from cervical cancer. Despite the technological and scientific advancements, the Indian society still remains greatly ignorant to a number of issues that call for immediate action. Sedentary lifestyles, increasing levels of alcohol and tobacco use by women and promiscuity are causes that are augmenting the number of cervical cancer cases in India.

The first mass screening programme for cervical cancer that is scheduled to begin in January in Bengal will hopefully generate the much needed awareness about this disease in the state. However, much more needs to be done to break through the ignorance that has blurred India against the impact of this silent killer. This is only possible when women as a whole come together to spread the word about the causes and the devastating effects of cervical cancer.

Post Contributor: Mayurakshi Barua, Delhi


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