The thing about cervical cancer is that it's entirely preventable through both vaccination and screening for precursor lesions.
And yet, according to the Singapore Cancer Society, it is the second most common cause of cancer death in reproductive-aged women globally, and in Singapore is currently the 10th commonest women's cancer.
"There are two main types of cervical cancer categorised based on types of cells lining the cervix-squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Majority of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma," says Dr Goh Lit Ching, a resident doctor at DTAP Clinic.
She adds that early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms, but that over time, there may be abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge, painful intercourse or pelvic pain.
This is why it is important to go for a pap smear even if there are no unusual signs. Early-stage cervical cancer or precancer is usually treated by surgical removal of the affected area while more advanced stages may need chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
It's also crucial to get it treated lest complications occur.
"Cervical cancer may affect one's fertility if more invasive treatment is needed to improve the prognosis of survival for patients, including removal of part of the cervix or adjacent organs," says Dr Goh.
But there are common risk factors of cervical cancer that with lifestyle changes you can mitigate. She tells us what some of them are.
The human papillomavirus (HPV), especially the high-risk strains, increases the risk of developing cervical cancer.
One has a higher chance of contracting HPV if they have a high number of sexual partners or are suffering from other sexually transmitted diseases.
Weak immune system
This includes those undergoing immunosuppressant treatments for chronic diseases.
Smoking increases the risk of developing squamous cell cervical cancer as substances from tobacco smoke damage the DNA of cervix cells.
It also weakens the immune system, making it less effective in fighting HPV infections.
This article was first published in Her World Online.