Why Is Cervical Cancer Lesser Known Compared To Breast Cancer?
- 6 Mins Read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Reshma Pathare
Two of the commonest cancers affecting the female body to the point of mortality are breast cancer and cervical cancer. Both are associated with sensitive parts of the female body, thus requiring extra care and attention, but have instead had to succumb to ignorance and embarrassment-induced negligence.
There is little doubt that breast cancer and cervical cancer are both spreading widely and becoming responsible for consuming female lives over the world. Sample this.
- According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2020 report, breast cancer has overtaken lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer.
- Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in 110 countries, respectively – Globocan 2020.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, cervical cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the leading cause of death in females due to cancer.
- Cervical cancer in South East Asia accounts for 34% of cervical cancer deaths globally and has been declared a public health hazard by WHO.
Organizations like WHO have come up with special initiatives like WHO-GBCI (for breast cancer) and Global Strategy for Cervical Cancer Elimination to increase awareness about the seriousness of both these cancers.
Such initiatives stress the need for women to update themselves with information and stop being embarrassed to undertake timely screenings to prevent themselves from succumbing to the disease.
Yet, despite all this, awareness about cervical cancer seems to be less than that about breast cancer.
What exactly is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a non-transmissible, non-infectious cancer that can affect a woman any time after attaining puberty, but usually after her 40s. Obesity, genes mutations passed down through the generations, prolonged alcohol consumption, and radiation exposure are some predominant factors that can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Women should start undertaking the DIY breast self-examination to look for sudden changes in their breast structure and composition. Any kind of lumps, dimples, flat surfaces, redness, nipple discharge, and change in nipple shape should be shown to a doctor without delay.
Additionally, yearly mammograms for women between 45-55 years of age, and two-yearly mammograms beyond that can help arrest the problem before it becomes deadlier.
The good news is that most lumps are non-cancerous; but it is always better to get it confirmed medically via breast imaging or if needed, biopsies. Timely detection and immediate treatment can keep cancer from metastasizing to the bones, brain, or lungs.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix i.e., the part connecting the vagina to the uterus. Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) that spread primarily through sexual contact are the main culprits leading to cervical cancer.
However, over the years several myths have come to be associated with cervical cancer.
What causes cervical cancer?
In particular, HPV-16 and HPV-18 are responsible for cervical cancer. This cancer also happens due to low immunity. Hence, other STDs, low body immunity due to poor diet, breakdown of immunity due to smoking, usage of immunosuppressant drugs, and prolonged use of oral contraceptives can also make women prone to cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
If women experience, any of the symptoms below, they should consult a doctor to check for precancerous lesions or cervical cancer.
- consistent pelvic pain
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- bleeding in between periods
- bleeding after sex
After all, while this cancer takes a long time to develop, it can become fatal if not treated in time.
What are the best ways to prevent cervical cancer?
- Taking Pap smear tests every three years from the age of 21-65.
- HPV tests every five years in the same age bracket.
- The HPV vaccine which can be anytime any time after the age of 9 until age 45, are some of the best ways to prevent being afflicted with this cancer, or at least, recognize the telltale signs early.
Cervical Cancer–the lesser-known burden
Even though both cancers are equally life-risking, awareness about cervical cancer is lesser than that about breast cancer, especially in mid-and low-income countries. Organizations like WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been doing immense work to increase awareness about both cancers.
However, two factors have contributed to breast cancer being known more about than cervical cancer.
- First, tremendous media propagation about the perils of breast cancer has made a huge case for cognizance about the same. Turning breast cancer into a brand by associating it with a pink ribbon turned out to be a stellar move towards opening a proactive dialogue about the probabilities and outcomes of this disease worldwide.
- The pink ribbon culture became a cultural offshoot of breast cancer advocacy. Declaring October as Breast Cancer Awareness month, bringing several hospitals, pharma companies, and women-related brands on board to spread awareness about breast cancer, feting the survivors of breast cancer, and establishing strong lines of communication via conventional & social media about the need for shedding shyness and going for self-exams or mammograms has all contributed to raising the overall understanding about this cancer.
In contrast, awareness about cervical cancer on a popular scale leaves much to be desired.
- This factor, compounds the second one – which is, an embarrassment in women (especially in mid-and low-income countries) to speak openly about the problems related to their genitals, and the resultant further lack of readiness to get their private parts tested.
- Hence, even though medical organizations are doing their best to equip even the remotest of countries with HPV vaccines and screening facilities for cervical cancer unless there’s a concerted effort made to break the social silence surrounding this disease, not much success can be achieved.
What can be done to create more awareness about cervical cancer?
- Media outlets, doctors, pharma companies, health workers all need to come on board to exhort women to stop being embarrassed about their private parts, and instead, treat them with more care than ever.
- Women need to be encouraged to keep track of their genital wellness and not be afraid or shy to talk to their doctor if they see unusual changes in their genitalia.
- Developing countries that make strategies to combat global cervical cancer, need to understand that in many cultures, female genitalia is considered impure or something to be kept hidden.
Sadly, women too are conditioned to think the same. Hence, breaking this social stigma is the first challenge to kickstart a dialogue about cervical cancer.
If these things are taken into consideration and acted upon, it won’t be long before cervical cancer receives as much awareness as breast cancer does, and women around the world can stop being victims of both these fatal diseases.
World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/news/item/03-02-2021-breast-cancer-now-most-common-form-of-cancer-who-taking-action
American Cancer Society – https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21660
World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/southeastasia/news/speeches/detail/regional-director-s-inaugural-address-at-the-regional-meeting-on-eliminating-cervical-cancer-as-a-public-health-problem-in-the-south-east-asia-region
World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/breast-cancer