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Cervical Cancer Awareness – The Facts You Should Know

January 5, 2022

Globally, we dedicate the month of January to activities that improve Cervical Cancer Awareness.

In some African countries, poor education and misconceptions limit how people can look for health care and advice when needed.

This means people may not seek help for changes in their bodies until it’s too late.

While this is the case for many cancers, Cervical Cancer is quite different.

Research has indicated a clear pre-cancerous stage of cervical cancer.

In addition, also unlike many other types of cancer, we have identified a specific cause and process for the development of cancer.

And finally, we have a vaccine that can halt the initial steps before the pre-cancerous state begins.

cervical cancer

Cervical Cancer Facts

We have listed some of the common facts about Cervical Cancer below:

  • Invasive cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women worldwide, but 80% of cases occur in developing countries.

Cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in Nigeria and 5th in the United Kingdom – it is treatable in its pre-cancerous state.

  • Although it is the 2nd most common cancer in Nigerian women, it is the highest cause of cancer-related death in women.

Unlike other cancers, we know what causes cervical cancer – the Human Papillomavirus, HPV.

  • HPV is also responsible for genital warts. However, the group or strain that causes cervical cancer  (types 16 and 18) are different from the ones which cause warts.

Cervical cancer is preventable – by taking the HPV vaccine. Girls as young as 12 and 13 years can have the vaccine (Gardasil and Cervarix ).

  • While boys or men cannot get cervical cancer, they can transmit the virus during sexual intercourse.

Using condoms during sex offers some protection against HPV. However, condoms cannot always prevent infection since the virus also spreads through skin-to-skin contact of the wider genital area.

  • Apart from the vaccine and use of condoms, avoiding multiple sexual partners also reduces the risk of cervical cancer.

Screening, the process of detecting early signs of cancer, is available for Cervical cancer.

  • The Pap smear is available in many Nigerian centres.
  • Women of childbearing age under 60 years can have a pap smear.
  • It involves taking tissue from the cervix (through the vagina) to determine if there are any changes that indicate possible future development of cervical cancer.

The PAP smear does not diagnose cervical cancer, it is a screening test only.

  • Most centres recommend you have cervical screening every 3 years (or 5 years, depending on your age). Before the age of 60 years, you will have a test every 5 years.

The best time for your test is 14 days before your next period to get clear results. To get clear results, avoid sexual intercourse and lubricants for at least 24 hours beforehand as these may affect test results.

Cervical Cancer Awareness

What happens after Cervical Cancer Screening?

You will usually receive results in a couple of weeks. If your result is normal, you will only need to repeat the test again after 3 years (or 5 years).

  • If the test is inadequate, it may mean insufficient cells were collected for testing or, for some reason, it was impossible to interpret the test clearly. This does not mean cancer, but the test will need to be repeated – usually after 3 months.

Abnormal test – an abnormal test does not mean cancer. However, it indicates a change in the appearance of the cervical cells that may suggest the presence of HPV; and, if left untreated, may eventually progress to cervical cancer.

  • There are 2 classes of abnormal results – Low grade or borderline change (dyskaryosis); and High grade or moderate or severe changes (dyskaryosis).

Low-grade changes mean some abnormal changes; there may be HPV infection as well, which means you may need further testing (colposcopy).

  • Colposcopy is an examination that looks closely at the cervix to identify micro changes.

Low-grade changes often may not need treatment, and women may be asked to repeat the procedure as usual after 3 years.

  • High-grade changes will also need a colposcopy; in some cases, some treatment to destroy/remove any abnormal cells will be carried out.

Usually, if high-grade changes are treated, more frequent tests will be done, e.g. repeat PAP smear after 6 months or 12 months.

What are the earliest symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

  • A woman who develops any form of bleeding in between her periods should have this checked by her doctor, as this may suggest the presence of cervical cancer. 

Other changes include bleeding during or after sexual intercourse; or in women who have stopped having periods (menopause), starting to bleed again vaginally (post-menopausal bleeding). Read here to learn about Menopause Symptoms and Treatments.

  • There may be pain in the lower back area or pelvis as well as or an abnormal vaginal discharge.

Please seek help without delay.

  • Your primary doctor will examine the cervix first with a device called a speculum similar to having vaginal swabs done.

If the cervix has an unusual appearance, you will be referred to a specialist for further advice and treatment.

You may also click here to see cervical cancer screening (pap smear) centres in Nigeria.

More Reading:


Editing by AskAwayHealth


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on various healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and help promote quality healthcare. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us direct

Image Credits: Canva

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