Dr Linda Haj Omar
Cancer is quite common in both developing as well as developed countries, but awareness is yet poor among the general population.
Poor awareness leads to poor uptake of screening modalities and delay in diagnosis and thus increasing the chances of losing lives.
Thousands of lives could be saved each year if people were more aware of cancer signs and symptoms. Also, people would seek for help as soon as possible as treatment is usually more effective in the initial stages of cancer.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer, also known as cancer of the cervix, is cancer that starts in the cells of the cervix. This cancer happens when the cells on the cervix begin to change to precancerous cells. It is worth noting that not all precancerous cells turn to cancer. However, finding these problematic cells and treating them before they change is critical to preventing cancer.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Many women with cervical cancer do not realise they have the disease early on because it usually does not cause symptoms until the late stages. When symptoms do appear, they are easily mistaken for common conditions like menstrual periods and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI).
Typical cervical cancer symptoms at stage 1 are:
Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odour.
Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between menstrual periods, or after menopause.
Menstrual periods may be heavier and last longer than normal.
Pain in the pelvis.
Need to urinate more often.
Pain during urination.
Symptoms of cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or organs may include:
Difficult or painful urination, sometimes with blood in the urine.
Diarrhoea, or pain or bleeding from the rectum when pooping.
Fatigue, loss of weight, and appetite.
A general feeling of illness.
Dull backache or swelling in your legs.
Pelvic or abdominal pain.
Cervical cancer causes
Most cervical cancer cases are caused by the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV). There are about 100 different strains of HPV, but only certain types cause cervical cancer. The two types that most commonly cause cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18. Being infected with a cancer-causing strain of HPV does not mean you will get cervical cancer. Your immune system eliminates most of HPV infections, often within 2 years. HPV can also cause other cancers in women and men which include:
Cervical Cancer Treatment
Cervical cancer is very treatable if diagnosed early. The four main treatments are:
Sometimes these treatments are combined to make them more effective.
Cervical cancer stages
After you have been diagnosed, your doctor will assign your cancer a stage. The stage tells whether the cancer has spread, and if so, how far it is spread. Staging your cancer can help your doctor find the right treatment for you. There are four stages which include:
Stage 1: The cancer is small. It may have spread to the lymph nodes. It has not spread to other parts of your body.
Stage 2: The cancer is larger. It may have spread outside of the uterus and cervix or to the lymph nodes. It still has not reached other parts of your body.
Stage 3: The cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina or to the pelvis. It may be blocking the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. It has not spread to other parts of your body.
Stage 4: The cancer may have spread outside of the pelvis to organs like your lungs, bones, or liver.
Cervical cancer prevention
Routine Pap smear tests which can detect precancerous cells which can be treated before they turn into cancer.
HPV vaccination can reduce the risk of cervical cancer and the HPV related infections. Vaccination is most effective before a person becomes sexually active. Both boys and girls can be vaccinated against HPV.
Practice safe sex and always use a condom or other barrier method when you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Additionally, limit the number of sexual partners.
Avoid smoking which is associated with the risk of cervical cancer.
Risk factors for cervical cancer?
Lack of screening history.
Having many sexual partners and having sexual intercourse before age of 18 years.
HIV infected persons.
Use of birth control pills.
Having multiple children and more full-term pregnancies.
Those with weak immune system
Risk Factors That Cannot Be Changed Are:
Persons who took DES (diethylstilbestrol), and their children are more likely to get cervical cancer.
Family history: Cervical cancer may have a genetic component.
Medlico Research and Training Centre joins the world in commemorating cervical cancer awareness, as it aims to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a focus on SDG3 (Good Health & Well-Being). We strive through research consultations, training, and data processing in partnerships with Government Ministries and Departments, Civil Society, Private Medical Practices, and Specialist Doctors in the spread of information about cervical cancer early diagnosis and treatment.
Our mantra, “information is power” has enabled us to create courses such as Academic and Regulatory Medical Writing, targeted at Government Ministries, Civil Society, Private Medical Practices, Pharmacists, Nurses, and Specialist Doctors at large.
Dr Linda Haj Omar, Founder & CEO of Medlico Research & Training Centre. For more information/ inquires; Visit: 4 Lanark Belgravia, Harare – Zimbabwe; Tel: (+263) 242 702326/7; WhatsApp: +263 777 553011/12; Email: [email protected]