January is cervical health awareness month; a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. Every year, more than 500,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 300,000 women die of this cancer each year, worldwide. If nothing is done to create awareness of cervical cancer prevention, the number of deaths caused by this cancer is estimated to increase by almost 50% by 2040.
HPV is a group of over 100 viruses, but types 16 and 18 cause approximately 70% of cervical cancer cases, hence the need to prevent HPV as it is a significant contributor to cervical cancer cases.
Late diagnosis and lack of access to life-saving treatment are major factors that lead to cervical cancer deaths, especially for women in low-and-middle-income countries. Regular cervical cancer screening can help prevent this cancer and reduce the number of deaths caused by it or related health problems.
Cervical Cancer Screening Tests
Finding cancer in its early stages makes it more effective to treat and that is what is offered at our partner hospitals. Once a doctor has done a physical examination, more tests may be ordered if lung cancer is suspected. Some advanced tests are:
Commonly known as a pap smear, this is a common test used in cervical cancer diagnosis by looking for precancers which are the cells on the cervix that might become cancerous if not treated. Through this test, abnormal or changed cells can be detected early before they become cancerous, thereby preventing cervical cancer from developing.
How is a pap smear done?
This test can be done by a general doctor or a gynaecologist. During the tests, a speculum (a duck-bill-shaped tool used to see the inside of a hollow part of the body to diagnose or treat a disease) is inserted into the vagina to enable examination of the cervix. Once the speculum is in place, a sample of cervical cells is taken using a spatula or brush and the cells are then tested for abnormal cells.
Things to know before having a Pap Smear
A pap smear is best done before or after a menstrual period, especially if the flow is heavy as that can affect the test results.
You should not douche or insert anything into the vagina to clean it before the test. In fact, douching is highly discouraged for all women even in normal circumstances when you are not having a pap test.
Factors that determine the pap smear frequency include:
1. Medical history: if you have had a history of cervical cancer.
2. Age: for instance, women between 21 – 29 years should have a pap smear once every 3 years while those between 30-65 years should have the test every 3 years and a HPV test every 5 years.
3. Exposure to diethylstilboestrol (DEB): (a synthetic form of the oestrogen hormone) when in the womb.
4. If you have a weakened immune system: due to conditions like HIV.
This test is done to detect DNA from HPV to determine whether it is present and the type of HPV. The decrease in cervical cancer cases can be attributed to the HPV vaccine that is available to females:
1. Below 15 years which is done in 2 doses scheduled, the first and then the second 6 months later. However, if the interval between the doses is shorter than 5 months, a 3rd dose is given at least 6 months after the 1st dose.
2. From 15 years and above in 3 doses between 0, 2 and 6 months.
3. For women who are immunocompromised and/or are HIV positive, a 3-dose schedule is necessary.
If vaccination against HPV and regular cervical cancer screening are maintained, and quality life-saving treatment is made available, then cervical cancer deaths can be reduced significantly, worldwide.
International Medical Treatment continues to assist patients from around the world to find affordable, quality medical treatment at our partner hospitals. If you or your loved one is seeking quality medical treatment for cervical cancer or any other cancer, contact IMT today to start your treatment journey.