For a long time now, cervical cancer has been one of the most lethal non-communicable diseases among women. Despite the many interventions that have been put in place by the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to contain it, studies and projections reveal a worrying trend for women across all ages. The risk of cervical cancer is an existential one, especially among medically underserved populations of the country; this is mainly because of the underutilization of available cervical cancer screening services.
According to the Ministry of Health, about 3,211 women die annually as a result of cervical cancer. More die globally because of what has now come to be known as the ‘silent pandemic.’ It is against this backdrop that the World Health Organization (WHO) set aside January as Cervical Cancer awareness month. Throughout the month, WHO and its partners raise awareness on cervical cancer to save lives.
With many women suffering silently due to a lack of knowledge on the disease, access to information is critical to prevent or identify and treat the disease while in its initial stages.
Here is all you need to know about cervical cancer
- What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical Cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) are currently recognized as the central causative factors of invasive cervical cancer. The most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18.
Being infected with either strain of HPV does not mean you will automatically contract cancer; your immune system tends to fight off most of the HPV infections.
- Symptoms of cervical cancer
Due to the alarming lack of awareness and easily accessible screening services, most cervical cancer patients do not know they are infected until later stages of the disease. This lack of knowledge is a major reason for the increasing fatalities across the country.
Most women mistake the signs of cervical cancer to menstruation periods
The key symptoms to look out for include the below
- Pain during urination
- A frequent urge to urinate
- Unusual pain in the pelvis area
- Smelly vaginal discharge
- Unusual bleeding after sex or in between periods
- How is cervical cancer screening done and how can I access screening services?
Cervical cancer screening is an important part of routine health care for women. The main objective of screening is to find any evidence of cancerous cells. During screening, cancer cells can be identified before they spread to other vital organs/parts of the body. Cervical cancer found at an early stage is usually easier to treat. Treatment becomes difficult as the cancer spreads and the stages advance. Screening for cervical cancer and the tests administered to individuals depends on someone’s age and health history. The National Cancer Screening Guidelines are focused on detection, prevention, and screening as well as equitable access to quality healthcare services.
Cervical Cancer screening services can be accessed at Equity Afia clinics located across the country. The clinics are fully equipped with qualified professionals and state-of-the-art equipment. In case of detection, the healthcare professionals are always on hand to guide you through the treatment process and specialized recovery. You will also be advised on how to prevent possible infection.
- What are the stages of cervical cancer?
After diagnosis, it is important that your doctor establishes the cervical cancer stage. Establishing the stage will help the healthcare provider prescribe the right type of treatment for you and manage the disease or provide the needed care towards recovery.
The four stages of Cancer are as below;
- Stage 1 – The cancer has not yet spread to other parts of the body but may already be attacking the lymph nodes.
- Stage 2 – The cancer has not yet reached other body parts but is much larger than at Stage 1. The cancer may be spreading outside the uterus and cervix.
- Stage 3 – The cancer has still not spread to other parts of the body but has spread to the lower part of the vagina or the pelvis.
- Stage 4 – The cancer spreads outside the pelvis area to other organs of the body including lungs, the liver and bones.
Throughout the country, many women are suffering the effects of cervical cancer without even knowing what it is until it is irreversible. Lack of awareness, cost limitations, human and health system resource shortages have largely influenced this. Equity Afia is now stepping up efforts to fight non-communicable diseases by offering quality and affordable healthcare services to all. Some of the healthcare services are now available online and doctor bookings can be done from the website.