Cervical cancer in young women: Risks and prevention

Interview: Dr Amita Nathani, Gynae Oncologist at Artemis Hospital Gurugram


In India, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer. The incidence rate is over 18% and it is the second leading cause of death with a mortality rate of over 9%. January is observed as the cervical cancer awareness month. In an interview with THE WEEK, Dr Amita Nathani, Sr Consultant- Gynae Oncology at Artemis Hospital Gurugram talks about the risks and prevention of the cancer.

Q: How much of a worry is cervical cancer for younger women?

A: Cervical cancer is often perceived as a concern primarily for older women. However, it can also affect young women. Comprehensive understanding of the associated risks is vital for effective prevention. The primary risk factor is the human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly prevalent among sexually active youth. Early sexual activity, multiple partners, and weakened immune systems amplify vulnerability.

Q: What are the other risk factors?

A: Smoking has been identified as a risk factor for cervical cancer. Young women who smoke are not only at an increased risk of acquiring HPV but also experience reduced immune function, making it more difficult for the body to clear HPV infections. Long term oral contraceptive use has been associated with a slightly increased risk as well. Young women who have used oral contraceptives for an extended period may need to monitor their cervical health more closely.

Q: What are the common prevention strategies?

A: The most effective preventive measure against cervical cancer is the HPV vaccine. Vaccination is recommended for both girls and boys before they become sexually active. The vaccine protects against the most common high-risk HPV strains, significantly reducing the risk of cervical cancer. Catch-up vaccination is also available for those who missed the recommended age for HPV vaccination.

Routine cervical cancer screenings, such as Pap smears (Pap tests) and HPV testing, are vital for early detection of abnormal changes in cervical cells. These screenings can identify precancerous lesions, allowing for timely intervention before the development of the cancer. Young women should follow the recommended screening guidelines provided by healthcare professionals.

Q: What are the other precautions that must be taken?

A: Practicing safe sex by using condoms consistently and correctly can reduce the risk of HPV transmission. Limiting the number of sexual partners and choosing partners with a lower risk of HPV infection also contribute to prevention. Quitting smoking is not only beneficial for overall health but also reduces the risk of cervical cancer. Increasing awareness about the disease, its risk factors, and available preventive measures is crucial. Education about the HPV vaccine is particularly significant, as is stressing the importance of regular screenings. By imparting knowledge and fostering a sense of responsibility, health education serves as a key catalyst in ensuring that young women are well-informed and actively engaged in preserving their cervical well-being.

Q: How does an overall healthy lifestyle contribute?

A: Embracing a healthy lifestyle is instrumental in fortifying overall well-being and reducing the risk of cervical cancer. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and nutrients provides essential building blocks for a robust immune system. Regular exercise not only supports physical health but also aids in stress reduction, a crucial factor as chronic stress weakens the immune response. Stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and relaxation exercises, further contribute to a resilient immune system. A strong immune system is better equipped to combat HPV infections, preventing their progression to cervical cancer. By prioritising a health-conscious lifestyle, individuals enhance their body's natural defenses, fostering a protective shield against the development of cervical cancer and promoting overall wellness.


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