What causes cervical cancer?

What are the predisposing factors for cervical cancer and how does it affect the body?

Dear Doctor,

What are the predisposing factors for cervical cancer and how does it affect the body? Mugisha

Dear Mugisha,

Cervical cancer occurs due to infection by human papilloma virus(HPV). Of about 150-200 known strains of HPV, 15 are considered to be high risk for causing cervical cancer. The risk factors are starting sex from an early age, having multiple sex partners, multiple pregnancies, reduced immunity as with HIV/AIDS, smoking, use of oral birth control pills for long time.

The cancer grows slowly over 10-20 years. Initially in early stages, there may be no symptoms. But as it grows, one can experience lower abdominal pain, feeling of mass in pelvic region, vaginal bleeding, bleeding after sex vaginal discharge, one or more of these symptoms.

Prevention consists of avoiding premature sex, promiscuous sex, keeping good pelvic hygiene, use of good quality latex condoms during intercourse, avoiding smoking, taking a well balanced diet including adequate amount of proteins, vitamins A, E, C and B12. Taking 2 shots of HPV vaccine 6-12 months apart during adolescence or even upto 25-26 years,, protects against cervical cancer. But it is effective only if one is not already infected with HPV. Early detection is possible by regular Pap’s smear and HPV test, done every 3 years from about 21 to 60 years.

Cervical cancer per se is not sexually transmitted. But since the causative virus HPV is transmitted during direct skin to skin or skin to mucosa contact, as happens during sex, sexual contact increases the risk.

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