How To Prevent Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is the second commonest cancer in women worldwide. It is the cancer of the cervix – the lower, narrow end of the uterus (or womb) connecting the vagina (the birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. Cervical cancer is easy to prevent and also curable when found and treated early.
The cause of cervical cancer is unknown. The main factor is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus known to cause cancers. Most women and men are infected with the virus from sexual contact but only a few go on to become cancerous.
Every woman who is sexually active or has been sexually active is at risk of cervical cancer. There are other risk factors for developing cervical cancer.
Women with a higher risk of developing cervical cancer include:
- Older women (aged 60 and above).
- Poor women.
- Women who have had several pregnancies (more than four pregnancies carried to term).
- Women who have HIV.
- Women who started having sex at a young age (below 17 years old).
- Women with multiple sexual partners or a male partner who has multiple sexual partners.
- Women who smoke.
- Women on long-term use of oral contraceptives (over 5 years).
Usually, many women do not have any symptoms early on. Symptoms appear as the disease progresses. The commonly seen symptoms include:
- Bleeding after sex,
- Bleeding between menstrual cycles,
- Bleeding after the cessation of menstruation, and
- Vaginal discharge, which may be bloodstained.
How to prevent cervical cancer
Cervical cancer screening via pap smear effectively reduces cervical cancer through early detection and commencement of treatment. It finds abnormal cells in and around the cervix. Starting at 21 years, every woman should be screened every two to three years.
The vaccine helps protect against HPV. It is given by an injection into the upper arm, thighs or buttocks. It is taken in three doses from start, one or two months after the first dose (depends on the vaccine type) and six months after the first dose. Young girls between the ages of nine and 13, before they become sexually active, are the desired target for the vaccine. However, a woman of any age can be vaccinated.
Avoid multiple sexual partners
Having many partners increases the possibility of developing cancer. With persistent infection, the likelihood of the body clearing it reduces. Avoiding sex with men who have multiple sex partners is equally important.
Quit smoking tobacco or cigarettes
Smoking is a major factor in the development of cervical cancer. This also applies to other cancers like lung, bladder, skin, throat and rectal cancers.
Maintain a healthy weight
Like smoking, obesity is a factor in the development of many diseases including cancers.
Avoid prolonged use of Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCP)
Using OCP for longer than five years increases your chances of developing cervical cancer. There are other forms of contraceptives to choose from if there is a need to use them.
Get tested for HIV
The risk of developing cervical cancer increases in women who are HIV positive. Getting tested frequently is the only way to know one’s status. If positive, begin treatment as soon as possible.