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Cervical Cancer Awareness - The Facts You Should Know

The month of January is dedicated globally to activities targeted at improving Cervical Cancer Awareness.

Within some African countries, poor education coupled with misconceptions limit how people can look for health are and advise when they need it.

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

While this is the case for many cancers, with Cervical Cancer it 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 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 Papilloma virus, 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 the administration of the HPV vaccine - this vaccine ( Gardasil and Cervarix ) can be given to girls as young as 12 and 13 years.

  • 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, but it cannot always prevent infection because the virus is also spread 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.
  • It is recommended for women under 60 years, and involves taking tissue from the cervix via 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.

  • Cervical screening is usually done every 3 years (or 5 years depending on the woman's age).

The test is best done 14 days before your next period to get clear results; and women are advised to 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 means 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 mnopausal bleeding).

  • 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.

More Reading:

References

Editing by AskAwayHealth

Disclaimer

All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through info@askawayhealth.org   


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