Cervical cancer: Biggest hurdle is lack of awareness

Cervical cancer: Biggest hurdle is lack of awareness

The disease, which is caused by an hpv infection, can be cured completely if detected early.

Ameeta Mishra knew for a long time that there was something wrong with her uterus. She would suffer untimely instances of bleeding, aches and pains. However, she didn’t go to a doctor; her family didn’t have a lot of money and her children were young. Not to mention, she was scared of what she would find out.

In 2007, at the age of 51, the pain in her legs became unbearable and there was a white discharge from her vagina. It was then that she finally decided to see her gynaecologist. A biopsy was done of her uterine growth and a consultation with an oncologist revealed cervical cancer.

Mishra knew very little about the disease. Even less so about the precautions she could’ve taken to avoid it. Even today, more than four years after she was diagnosed, Mishra’s knowledge about pap-smear tests is sketchy at best.

Awareness about the disease is one of the causes being championed by the DNA I Can Women’s Half Marathon, as lack of it is the biggest hurdle for Indian women when it comes to battling cervical cancer. And in a country where 1.34 lakh new cervical cancer cases are reported each year, that’s a crying shame. Cervical cancer is caused mainly because of an HPV (Human Papillomavirus) infection. If the infection is caught before it turns cancerous (through regular check-ups and pap smears) it can be cured easily, yet 74,000 Indian women die of cervical cancer every year… simply because of lack of awareness! 

There are those who survive the disease though, like Mishra. “I wasn’t scared at all when they told me I had cancer. I had lived a good full life… I underwent treatment and recovered completely.”
However, not everyone is in as comfortable a space as Mishra is.

A 55-year-old woman, on condition of anonymity, said, “My daughter is getting married soon. If the news that I have cervical cancer spreads, people might think it’s hereditary and the wedding might get called off.” But cervical cancer is patently non-hereditary, according to Dr Ameesh Dalal, gynaecologic oncologist at Breach Candy Hospital.

“Cervical cancer is caused mainly due to HPV; it’s not hereditary. In fact, most cancers aren’t. Only about 5-10% can be said to be hereditary,” he says.

Denial the biggest hurdle in treating cervical cancer: Doctors

It’s quite unfortunate that a cancer that is easily preventable and treated kills 74,000 Indian women a year.

Cervical cancer is the most prevalent cancer amongst Indian women. It’s quite unfortunate that a cancer that is easily preventable and treated kills 74,000 Indian women a year. Lack of awareness in India is a big problem, but when DNA sat down with experts in the field of cervical cancer, another insidious problem came to the fore — denial.

Cervical cancer stems mostly from Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections and HPV is a sexually-transmitted virus. Dr Rishma Dhillon Pai,consultant gynaecologist at Jaslok and Lilavati hospitals, said, “The main problem is the womens’ refusal to accept that their  daughters are sexually active. I see many young girls in their 20s who have pre-cancerous HPV infections.”

Susmita Mitra, director of special projects at CPAA (Cancer Patients Aid Association), spoke of a survey that CPAA carried out with Reliance Industries where they tested 1,000 women for HPV infections. 19 of the 1,000 turned to be positive. They were given medicines and then asked to come back for checkups. “Only 5 women turned up for the first checkup. Two women turned up for the second checkup and for the third checkup after one year no one turned up. When we called them, they were rude and told us not to call,” she said.