Cervical cancer is preventable, yet it is the 2nd most common cancer among women in Nigeria. CancerAware Nigeria, a cancer intervention non-profit organisation has been running an intensive campaign to educate Nigerians about cervical cancer, its risk factors, screening options, e.t.c. They have put together a Cervical Cancer Factsheet to address some of the common questions.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops on the cervix of a woman.
The cervix is the narrow part of the lower uterus, which is often referred to as the neck of the womb. Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix start to grow out of control.
What is the main risk factor for Cervical Cancer?
Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus or HPV for short.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.
Most sexually active individuals – male and female will get HPV at one point in their lives without knowing. In most cases, the body’s immune system usually clears it.
However, in some cases, some types of HPV can go on to cause cervical cancer in women. It can persist in the woman without showing any signs or symptoms, in some cases for years. In addition to cervical cancer, some types of HPV can also cause cancer of the vulva and vagina in women, penile cancer in men, and cancers of the anus, mouth and throat in both men and women.
How does HPV cause Cervical Cancer?
High-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) leads to cancer because they cause changes in the cells of the cervix. Initially, these are precancerous changes that can be detected with screening tests. Over time, the precancerous cells can develop into cancer cells.
After cancer has developed, it then spreads within the cervix and eventually to surrounding areas.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Unfortunately, HPV has no signs or symptoms. This makes it hard to know if you or your partner is infected.
Can Cervical Cancer be prevented?
Yes. Cervical cancer can be prevented.
In fact, it is one of the most preventable cancers.
How can Cervical Cancer be prevented?
The are several ways that cervical cancer can be prevented.
One is by regular screening and another is by the HPV vaccine.
Do I need a Cervical screening test?
If you are female and are sexually active (even if you have had only one partner), you should consider getting a cervical screening test done.
Why should I go for a Cervical screening test?
Cervical screening is a method of examining cells from the cervix.
Screening can detect precancerous/abnormal cells so that they can be treated to prevent the occurrence of cancer. Having regular cervical screening offers the best protection against developing cervical cancer.
What types of screening tests are available?
There are several types of cervical screening tests .
- The Pap Test
- VIA (Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid)
- HPV Testing
These tests are often able to detect abnormal cells before they turn into cancer cells.
Are there any risks associated with Cervical screening tests?
The answer is no. There are no medical risks associated with cervical screening tests.
They are simple, quick and essentially painless exercises.
It is not having regular screening as an adult woman that leads to the great risk of developing cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
The most common symptom of cervical cancer is irregular vaginal bleeding.
This may occur in several forms. One is between menstrual periods and even sometimes after sexual intercourse.
Also, any form of vaginal bleeding in women who have passed menopause and who no longer have menstrual periods is a big warning sign of cervical cancer.
Please note that these symptoms may be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer, however ladies, if you have any of these symptoms, please speak to your doctor immediately.