A study published in medical journal The Lancet says “Muslim women are less prone to cervical cancer than Hindu counterparts”. The reason could be circumcision among Muslim men which has a protective effect against sexual transmission of human papilloma virus, a causative agent in cervical cancer, says city-based researcher, M Siva Prasad Reddy.
Cervical cancer is around 40 per cent less common in Muslim women than in Hindu women. This is the uncommon evidence that has emerged from the ‘Million Death Study’, a collaborative research between Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR) and the Office of the Registrar General of India. The findings of the research, titled ‘Cancer mortality in India: A Nationally Representative Survey,’ were published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, recently.
Dr Arun Shet, head of the department of oncology at city-based St John’s Medical College Hospital and co-researcher in the cancer mortality survey, told Bangalore Mirror, “In 2010, more than 5.56 lakh cancer deaths were estimated in India and 71.1 per cent occurred in people aged between 30 and 69 years. With regard to women, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death both in urban and rural areas. But what is interesting is that cervical cancer risks were much lower in Muslim women and in states where the proportion of Muslims was larger.”
Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina. Among the top three fatal cancers among women, cervical cancer (with an incidence of 17 per cent) is followed by stomach cancer (14 per cent) and breast cancer (10 per cent).
On Muslim women being less prone to cervical cancer compared to Hindu women, Dr Shet attributed the phenomenon to circumcision among Muslim men. Circumcision has a protective effect against sexual transmission of human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a causative agent in cervical cancer, Dr Arun said.
The study throws light on vulnerability levels based on demography: The age-standardised rates (30-69 years) for cervical cancer in women in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam (where 75 per cent and 40 per cent of the total populations respectively are Muslims) were less than a quarter of the nationwide rates for cervical cancer.
Reacting to the survey, Dr M Vijay Kumar, professor and director, department of surgery, Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, said, “The Muslim factor for cervical cancer is so distinct that the rate for this type of cancer is low in states with a significant Muslim population. It is not that Muslim women do not get cervical cancer; the fact is they are less vulnerable because of circumcision among males. The chances of Muslim women getting cervical cancer will get delayed, maybe 20 years or more after consummation.”
Interestingly, the study suggested that Muslim women were more prone to breast and stomach cancers.
On the strategies to reduce cervical cancer deaths, the research suggested vaccination against human papilloma virus before marriage and, for married women, a one-time testing or screening followed by visual inspection with acetic acid and further referral for treatment.
The study also warns of an increase in mortality rates from tobacco smoking. It states: “Prevention of tobacco-related and cervical cancers and earlier detection of treatable cancers would reduce cancer deaths in India. The substantial variation in cancer rates in India suggests other risk factors or causative agents that remain to be discovered.”
The risks of cervical cancer are much lower in states where the Muslim population is larger, Arun shet, oncologist, ST John’s hospital