Cervical Cancer Awareness – The Facts You Should Know
Globally, we dedicate the month of January to activities that improve Cervical Cancer Awareness.
What’s On This Page
Within some African countries, poor education coupled with misconceptions limits how people can look for health care and advise when they need it.
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 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 some other cancers, we actually 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 centers.
- Women of a child bearing age under 60 years can have the 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 centers recommend you have cervical screening every 3 years (or 5 years depending on your age). Before age 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.
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 that insufficient cells were collected for testing or for some reason, it was not possible to clearly interpret the test. 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 result – Low grade or borderline change (dyskariosis); and High grade or moderate or severe changes (dyskariosis).
Low-grade changes mean some abnormal changes; there may be HPV infection as well which means you may need further testing (colposcopy).
- Colpscopy 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 and 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 Dr will examine the cervix firstly with a device called a speculum which is similar to having vaginal swabs done.
If there is an unusual appearance of the cervix, you will be referred to a specialist for further advice and treatment.
For any questions on this topic, please contact us.
You may also click here to see cervical cancer screening (pap smear) centres in Nigeria.
- Ahmed et al. Knowledge, attitude and practice of cervical screening among market women in Zaria, Nigeria. 2013. Nigerian Medical Journal
- Holland WW, Stewart S. Screening in adult women, screening in health care. Nuffield: Nuffield provincial Trust; 1990. p. 155-172.
- Goroll AH, May LA, Mulley AG. Primary care medicine: Office evaluation and management of the adult patient. Screening for cervical cancer. 1995. p. 588-5903.
- Morounke et al. Epidemiology and Incidence of Common Cancers in Nigeria. 2017
Editing by AskAwayHealth
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