By Mpho Shelile
MASERU – Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the uterus from the vagina). Almost all cervical cancer cases (99%) are linked to infection with high risk human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact. Although most infections with HPV resolve spontaneously and cause no symptoms, persistent infection can cause cervical cancer in women.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. It is a perfect opportunity for all women and partners to raise awareness about cervical cancer and HPV vaccination. It is about time we focus on ending cervical cancer within generations as the theme for Cervical Cancer Awareness this year.
When diagnosed, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. Cancers diagnosed in late stages can also be controlled with appropriate treatment and palliative care. With a comprehensive approach to prevent, screen and treat, we can end cervical cancer as a public health problem within a few generations.
Despite being a preventable and curable disease, cervical cancer is responsible for a large burden of suffering in women around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries. To uphold the right to health for adolescent girls and women, it is important that differences in access to high-quality health services are addressed.
Dr Emil Mchaki a cancer specialist from Tanzania stated that in order for a women to know their cancer status one has to do a pap smear, or look out for the following symptoms: vaginal bleeding between periods, menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than usual, pain during intercourse, bleeding after intercourse, pelvic pain, and change in one’s vaginal discharge such as more discharge or it may have a strong or unusual color or smell.
Steps followed when doing a pap smear are: regular gynecological screenings with a Pap test which detect most cases of cervical cancer. A Pap test, or Pap smear, is a test that collects cells from your cervix. These cells are examined for signs of pre-cancers or other irregularities.
“If ones Pap smear test comes back as abnormal, further testing is necessary. This could include an HPV test, which is a specific test that checks the cells of your cervix for HPV infection. Certain types of HPV infection are linked to cervical cancer”, Stated Dr. Mchaki.
One’s healthcare provider may also examine their cervix and take a sample of tissue for a biopsy if they are suspected to have cancer. There are many techniques that can be used to obtain the tissue, like punch biopsy or end cervical curettage. In other cases, a wire loop is used to gather tissues from the cervix for biopsy.
To conclude his speech, Dr. Mchaki indicated that being diagnosed with cancer is both shocking and scary. He advised patients to have discussions regarding questions and concerns with healthcare teams to make sure we understand diagnosis and treatment plans for cancer. He also added that friends and family are the best supporters when trying to cope with cancer. “Early detection of irregular cells on ones cervix is critical to identifying and treating this terrible disease. You can take steps to reduce your risk of getting cervical cancer by scheduling regular gynecological screenings and practicing safe sex”, Dr. Mchaki said.