Do you know your cervical cancer status? Does your sister, wife, mother, daughter or friend know their cervical cancer status?
Cancer is a serious and growing public health challenge in the world. It is one of the four major non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. Cancer currently contributes to more deaths than HIV, malaria and TB combined, and robs us of the most productive age group (30-70 years).
There are cancers which are more likely to occur in people who are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and these are classified as Aids-related cancers and these constitute about 60% of new cancers in Zimbabwe.
The most common Aids-related cancers are Kaposi Sarcoma, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Primary Central Nervous System (CNS) Lymphoma and cervical cancer. These cancers however, can also affect people who are HIV negative.
This article will focus on cervical cancer. This is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. Women who are HIV positive are five times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than those that are HIV negative.
Cervical cancer grows slowly so precancerous cells can be identified through screening and if treated, cancer can be prevented. Hence, early diagnosis and treatment goes a long way in averting cervical cancer. Statistics show that globally, every minute a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer and every two minutes a woman dies from it.
Risk factors of cervical cancer are:
lMultiple sexual partners or a partner who has had multiple sexual partners.
lEarly onset of sexual activities (before 20 years).
lHarmful cultural practices (inserting herbs or chemicals into the vagina to enhance sexual pleasure).
lInfections such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
lMultiparity (more than four children)
lSmoking — harmful chemicals damage the cervix.
lFamily history of cervical cancer especially mother or sister.
lImmunosuppression, for instance HIV infection.
Signs and symptoms
In the early stages (precancerous stage) there are no symptoms or signs.
When advanced, the following abnormal vaginal bleeding may appear.
lBleeding between periods.
lBleeding after sexual intercourse, douching or a pelvic exam.
lMenstrual periods that lasts longer and heavier than before.
lBleeding after going through menopause.
Women may also notice:
lA watery, foul-smelling discharge which does not respond to antibiotics.
lIncreased vaginal discharge.
lPelvic or abdominal pain.
lPain during sex.
lLeg swelling and fatigue.