Cervical Cancer: Can the virus be transmitted non-sexually?
News Desk || shiningbd
January is observed as the Cervical Cancer Awareness Month which is represented by a teal coloured ribbon and according to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in reproductive-aged women globally while it is the fourth most frequent cancer in women. As per the American Cancer Society, “Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix -- the lower part of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the body of the uterus (the upper part where a fetus grows) to the vagina (birth canal). Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control.”
Where exactly does cervical cancer begin?
For the uninitiated, the cervix is made of two parts and is covered with two different types of cells - the endocervix, which is the opening of the cervix that leads into the uterus and is covered with glandular cells, and the exocervix/ ectocervix, which is the outer part of the cervix that can be seen by the doctor during a speculum exam and is covered in squamous cells. The place where these two cell types meet in the cervix is called the transformation zone and this is where most cervical cancers begin.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Manisha Ranjan, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology at Motherhood Hospital in Noida revealed that every year 1,32,000 Indian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 74,000 die of the disease. The World Health Organization aims at eliminating 50,000 cervical cancer cases in India by 2050.
Dr Manisha highlighted, “If we see the Indian statistics, a large population of 436 million women falls into the age bracket of 15 years and above and they all are at the risk of contracting the disease.”
Can it be transmitted non-sexually?
“The main way though transmission of the virus can take place is through skin to skin contact in the genital area,” says Dr Manisha. However, she adds, “It’s not mandatory that the virus can be acquired without full sexual intercourse. Therefore it’s essential to use protection as a helpful preventive measure but, it is still not clear whether it fully protects women from acquiring the HPV. Experts have seen the non-sexual transmission of the virus in our country."
Listing causes that are non-sexual, Dr Manisha shared, "It can be due to the lack of hygiene in the women. The other direct factors leading to cervical cancer is long term use of hormonal contraceptives, high parity, tobacco and co-infection with HPV. ”
Stressing upon vaccination through human papillomavirus vaccines or HPV vaccine, Dr Manisha revealed, “Being one of the most life-threatening and dangerous female cancers, there are more than 150 types of HPV strains of which the two potent ones, HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause cervical cancer. The HPV is more virulent than HIV because they are made of only proteins and DNA and do not have an envelope, thereby it becomes a little difficult to get destroyed easily. Therefore, it can be eliminated through vaccination only.”
She pointed out, “HPV vaccines are very much available but people don’t have much awareness about it. Despite the availability of the vaccine all around, there are fewer takers for this vaccine because women often ignore their health issues.”
Another way that cervical cancer can be prevented is with the help of regular PAP smear screening. Dr Manisha elaborated, “Through the Pap test, the abnormal cells in the cervix is detected which if not diagnosed on time, may develop into cancer for being left untreated after being detected. The doctor may apply a dilute acetic acid solution (vinegar solution) to the cervix, which causes abnormal areas to turn white. Further, a biopsy can be taken from the abnormal area.”
The WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus too had tweeted about cervical cancer being “the first cancer EVER to be eliminated” and called it ”highly preventable and treatable." According to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an intergovernmental agency under the WHO umbrella, cervical cancer is largely preventable through both vaccination and screening for precursor lesions, with appropriate follow up and treatment.