Cervical Cancer – the almost 100% preventable cancer

April 5, 2018 10:00 am
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Watch out for these 10 signs of cervical cancer/COURTESY – Sunrise Hospitals

, KENYA, Nairobi, Apr 5 – Research and multi-faceted study forms a large part of the medical treatment and interventions bedrock.

So, when prolific American actor and producer, Michael Douglas attributed his throat cancer to cunnilingus it not only ruffled his wife’s feathers but sent a tremor through the world of ‘cancer watchers’.

Douglas has since apologised for any embarrassment his claims could have caused his wife – Catherine Zeta-Jones but he stands by the candid thoughts he shared with the Guardian newspaper in 2013, especially because they got people thinking and talking.

Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. You can get HPV by having sexual contact with someone who has it.

Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time – the infection may go away on its own but sometimes it can cause genital warts or lead to cervical cancer. That’s why it’s important for women to have regular Pap tests. A Pap test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. If you treat these cell changes, you may prevent cervical cancer.

HPV – Five fast facts

  • There are more than 100 variants of Human Papillomavirus – HPV. They appear in different parts of the body and manifest themselves in different ways – some cause warts, but most are symptomless.
  • Some are spread by skin-to-skin contact, while others are typically spread during sex. When HPV is found in the mouth, it probably got there as a result of oral sex.
  • HPV is common – if you’re a sexually active adult, you’ve probably had it. By the age of 25, 90% of sexually active people will have been exposed to some form of genital HPV.
  • Around 15 types of HPV are linked to increased cancer risk, but it can’t be explicitly said to cause any particular cancers. It’s a long-term risk factor: over years and decades the risk is increased, rather than overnight.
  • Pre-teen and teenage girls can be vaccinated against HPV, which should in time both protect them from cervical cancers and it’s believed future partners from HPV-related oral cancers.

The Pap Smear

As with all cancers, early diagnosis is key to successful treatment and cure. Treating precancerous changes that affect only the surface of a small part of the cervix is much more likely to be successful than treating invasive cancer that affects a large portion of the cervix and has spread to other tissues.

The most important progress that has been made in early detection of cervical cancer is widespread use of the Papanicolaou test (Pap smear).

The Pap smear test is done as part of a regular pelvic examination. Named after the pathologist who developed the test – George Papanicolaou, the Pap smear is a quick, painless, and relatively inexpensive way of screening women for precancerous or cancerous changes in their cervix.

Cells from the surface of the cervix are collected on a slide and examined. Any abnormality found on a Pap smear mandates further evaluation.

The Nairobi Hospital offers vaccination for pre-teen girls to protect against cervical cancer. They have three injections given by a nurse over six months and there has also been a ‘catch up’ programme to vaccinate older teenage girls.

The vaccine protects against the two types of HPV that cause 7 out of 10 cervical cancer cases. But it does not protect against all types of human papillomavirus, so cervical screening is still important.

Routine Pap smears help prevent cervical cancer deaths especially because early-stage cervical cancer has no symptoms. These tests are therefore crucial in helping to detect pre-cancerous abnormalities and early-stage cervical cancer. Doctors recommend screenings at least every three years in women aged between 21 and 65 years.

The good news is that cervical cancer is highly preventable if screening and vaccine are taken seriously. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.

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