Happy Sallah to our committed doctor who is always there for us every week like the ‘northern star” for over a decade now. My sister is already diagnosed with cervical cancer and undergoing treatment. Please for the sake of those young ladies out there, provide information on this “silent” killer disease.
Thanks Catherine for your kind words and wishing your sister speedy recovery. Let me provide simple information about the cervix which is the lower part of the uterus (womb). It is sometimes called the uterine cervix. The fetus grows in the body of the uterus (the upper part). The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).
The part of the cervix closest to the body of the uterus is called the endocervix. The part next to the vagina is the exocervix (or ectocervix). The two main types of cells covering the cervix are squamous cells (on the exocervix) and glandular cells (on the endocervix). These two cell types meet at a place called the transformation zone. Most cervical cancers start in the transformation zone
Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. Cervical cancer usually develops very slowly. It starts as a precancerous growth. This precancerous condition can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. That is why it is so important for women to get regular pap smears. Undetected precancerous changes can develop into cervical cancer and spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. It can take years for precancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer.
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual intercourse.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
1. Commencing sex at an early age.
2. Multiple sexual partners.
3. Poor economic status (may not be able to afford regular pap smears).
4. Sexual partners who have multiple partners or who participate in high-risk sexual activities such as sex without protection.
5. Weak immune system.
Most of the time, early cervical cancer has no symptoms. Symptoms that may occur include:
1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause.
2. Any bleeding after menopause.
3. Continuous vaginal discharge, which may be pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling.
4. Periods become heavier and last longer than usual.
Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:
1. Back pain and fatigue.
2. Bone fractures.
3. Heavy bleeding from the vagina.
4. Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina.
5. Leg pain and pelvic pain.
6. Loss of appetite.
7. Single swollen leg.
8. Weight loss.
Precancerous changes of the cervix and cervical cancer cannot be seen with the naked eye. Special tests and tools are needed to spot such conditions.
1. Pap smears screen for pre-cancers and cancer, but do not make a final diagnosis.
2. If abnormal changes are found, the cervix is usually examined under magnification.
3. Endocervical curettage (ECC) to examine the opening of the cervix
4. Cone Biopsy .
Early cervical cancer can be cured by removing or destroying the precancerous or cancerous tissue. There are various surgical ways to do this without removing the uterus or damaging the cervix, so that a woman can still have children in the future. A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus but not the ovaries) is not often performed for cervical cancer that has not spread. It may be done in women with advanced cancer.
It is very important to ensure prevention of cervical cancer through;
1. Provision of vaccine to all female children. This could be further achieved through mass vaccination in schools to ensure no female child is left out.
2. Practicing safe sex (using condoms) also reduces risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
3. Limiting sexual partners as well getting regular Pap smears can help detect precancerous changes, which can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer.
4. Pap smears effectively spot such changes, but they must be done regularly. Annual pelvic examinations, including a pap smear, should start when a woman becomes sexually active, or by the age of 20 in a non-sexually active woman.