Cervical Cancer: What You Need To Know

Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the the opening to the lower most part of the woman’s womb (uterus), which connects to the vagina. These abnormal cells grow and spread to other parts of the body compromising proper body function.

Worldwide, this was the third most common cancer in the world in 2008. In Kenya, it is the second most common type of cancer amongst women after breast cancer.

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Causes Of Cervical Cancer?

A majority of the cases of cervical cancer have been associated with a certain variety of a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is mostly sexually transmitted. The virus attaches onto the cells in the cervix and begins to change the cells. These cells then grow out of control and become cancerous.

Other associated causes include stress and stress-related disorders, dietary factors, hormonal contraceptive drugs, multiple pregnancies, exposure to the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol, and family history of cervical cancer. Early age at first intercourse and first pregnancy are also considered risk factors, magnified by early use of oral contraceptives.

Human Papilloma Virus Infections And Cervical Cancer?

A lot of women will be exposed to HPV at some point in their life but they will not develop cervical cancer. There are over 150 varieties of HPV with only a handful known to cause this cancer. A majority may not even produce signs while others will cause non-cancerous growths on the skin known as warts. The scientific term for the word wart is Papilloma hence the virus name.

However, in some women, the HPV infection can be very aggressive and cause cancer. Low immunity, like HIV, increases the chances of this happening. Other than cervical cancer, HPV has been known to cause throat cancer and anal cancer, which are related to sexual activities.

What Are The Symptoms?

In the early stages, there may not be any symptoms. However, as the cancer grows one can experience abnormal vaginal discharge and bleeding, pain during sex or bleeding after sex.

Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?

Vaccination against HPV has been shown to be almost 70 per cent effective in preventing the virus from causing cervical cancer. These vaccinations are available in Kenya and are given in three doses.

As with other measures of preventing sexually transmitted infections having one faithful partner and abstinence will help prevent the spread of HPV. Proper use of condoms has also been shown to be effective but the areas exposed can be infected with HPV. Early screening for HPV is another effective measure to prevent cervical cancer. The most widely used method of screening for cervical cancer in Kenya is the PAP Smear.

All sexually active women are advised to regularly have Pap Smear tests. If the first PAP Smear does not show any abnormality then it can be repeated after two to three years. Some medical professionals advocate for an annual PAP Smear.

Does An Abnormal PAP Smear Mean Cervical Cancer?

No. An abnormal PAP Smear is not a diagnosis of cervical cancer. All it does is show that there is a problem with the cervix. Common causes of cervical problems include infections such as bacterial infections, fungal infections (yeast) or even sexually transmitted infections, which can make the cervix appear abnormal.

Activities such as douching can also cause irritation to the cervix and produce an abnormal PAP Smear. In case of an abnormal PAP Smear, the test may be repeated and a full pelvic examination done.

Is Cervical Cancer Treatable?

Treatment for the cause of the abnormal PAP smear will then be provided. If it is not confirmed to be cervical cancer. If the cancer is detected early, it is easier to get rid of it. Advanced cancers may need extensive treatment.

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