Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that grows on the cervix—the lower part of the uterus which connects the uterus to the vagina. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Associate Professor Dr Ganesh Ramachandran notes that there are almost 100 subtypes of HPV. That said, not all HPV cause cancer.
He explains that cervical cancer does not occur immediately after exposure to HPV. In fact, about 90% of women recover after a HPV infection.
However, some types of HPV infections can progress to pre-cancerous lesions and subsequently may cause cancer. “Generally, this takes about 15 to 20 years in otherwise healthy women. In women with a weakened immune system, this may take up to 5 to 10 years,” Dr Ramachandran says.
Vaccination against HPV is an effective way of preventing cervical cancer. “It has been reported that the number of HPV infections and pre-cancerous lesions has dropped in countries with a vaccination programme, and in time this should lead to a drop in new cervical cancer cases,” Dr Ramachandran adds.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, going for regular pap smears, and using self-testing kits for HPV also play an important role in preventing cervical cancer.