Cervical cancer is not just a health issue. What with its overtones of promiscuity, it could also rock conservative homes. And it does.
Shanta, a middle-aged woman from southern India, is the mother of a 13-year-old born after 15 years of marriage.
Overcoming her inhibitions, she allowed herself to be touched, groped and investigated by many doctors, all in the name of saving her marriage.
None of that seemed to help. Her husband is threatening to go for a second marriage, for he cant have sex with Shanta anymore. Cervical cancer is a dreaded word among women.
Ironically it has been estimated that in over 90 per cent of the cervical cancer cases, the wife is infected by a promiscuous husband.
Carcinoma of the uterine cervix or cervical cancer accounts for 34 per cent of cancers in women, and it could be triggered by many factors including unhygienic conditions, early marriages, repeated child births apart from promiscuous sex.
"Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women from rural areas. Shame and stigma prevent them from disclosing the symptoms initially. Even when they do, they prefer palliative medicine, rather than visit the district headquarters for examinations," said C. Raghunath Rao, Radiotherapist at MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Centre, Hyderabad, capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Cervical cancer forms a whopping 30 per cent of the total cancer cases in the institute. Use of soiled rags during menstruation and non-adherence to post-coital hygiene aggravate the problem.
The secondary status of woman in the family further delays the process and many reach the hospital at an advanced stage.
"If a patient is young and the disease is in the initial stage, we advise surgery coupled with radium therapy. If the disease is in stage II or III, radio therapy and chemotherapy are the remedies," Dr. Rao said.
When external radiation does not yield results, intra-cavity radiation is resorted to, which means invading the womb.
Apart from damaging the uterus and ovaries, prolonged radiation contracts the vagina and renders it dry, creating fear about sexual intercourse.
Even otherwise, many husbands do not readily accept their wives with the misconception that the disease would spread to them.
Taunts from in-laws are a regular thing.
"Doctors say I am perfectly normal. Yet, I am treated as an outcast at home. I am asked to keep my belongings separate and barred from the kitchen," said Padma, in tears.
Prevention, early detection and the strengthening of rural infrastructure, are the need of the hour, Dr.Rao stresses.