Cervical cancer is a kind of cancer that occurs in the cervix. This is the commonest type of cancer among Nigerian women today and as of 2007, almost 37 million women above the age of 15 were at risk of getting cervical cancer
The cervix is basically the part that connects the vagina to the uterus(womb), we could call it the gatekeeper of the womb in a way because, in women, the mucus around the cervix thickens or weakens to let sperms in
- Why is it so important?
Cervical cancer is common, and yet so preventable, almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus, HPV that is sexually transmitted, there are different strains of HPV but not all of them cause cancer, the common ones that do are HPV-16 and HPV-18. Other forms of HPV can cause genital warts or skin warts for instance
Here is the trick, some women who get infected with HPV eliminate the infection, but there are some that do not eliminate the infection and progress to develop cancer, HPV infection is extremely common,
This HPV also causes cancers of the throat, vulva, penis, anus, vagina, rectal in both men and women that become infected with it
Here is the good news, Infection with HPV can be prevented by vaccination and this vaccine can be very effective if given before a person becomes sexually active, and both boys and girls out to be vaccinated against HPV. The risk of HPV transmission can also be reduced by practising safe sex. However, condoms can’t prevent all HPV infections. The virus can also be transmitted from skin to skin.
If caught early, cervical cancer is very treatable, however, once cancer begins to spread, the chances of treating it reduce drastically, In Nigeria, most women who develop cervical cancer have never had a pap smear or not had one in the last 5 years.
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is used to diagnose cervical cancer, the doctor simply uses a device to collect the cells of your cervix. These cells are then sent to a lab to be examined under a microscope for evidence of cancer or precancer changes in the cells of the cervix.
Early changes can be removed before they cause too much damage.
Routine Pap smears have greatly reduced the number of deaths from cervical cancer.
How do I know I have Cervical Cancer without a Pap Smear?
Sadly, as with many other cancers, most symptoms are present only when cancer has progressed to a late stage, some people may have
- Pain in the cervix or around the pelvis.
- Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding, either bleeding/pain or after sex
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Kidney failure in advanced stages
When Do I Need To See a Doctor?
The challenge is that many other conditions present exactly this same way, and would depend on your age and a host of many other factors, so the only way to know for sure is to have a pap smear done and have someone look at your cervix.
But if you start to bleed after menopause, (bleeding after menopause is NEVER normal) or have frequent bleeding between your periods, or bleeding after intercourse, or you are losing an alarming amount of weight,
please see a doctor ASAP