Cervical Cancer- The Avoidable Journey!
Cervical cancer(CC) is one really nasty type of cancer that tends to take its victims by surprise. All cancers come as a surprise but CC is usually exceptional. CC is caused by a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. What makes it so sneaky is that HPV can quietly live in a body for more than 10 years without exhibiting any symptoms. The moment it begins to show symptoms, it'll have been in an advanced stage and this greatly reduces chances of survival.
Sadly, there is currently no cure for HPV . This is why creating awareness is very important so this sneaky virus can be exposed and prevented.
Cervical cancer is a cancer that occurs in the cervix. This is usually caused by the abnormal growth of cells(resulting from the presence of the HPV infection) in the cervix, this may invade or spread to other parts of the body.
Please note: HPV infection doesn't always lead to cancer, and men are also susceptible to it. It is also responsible for the common genital warts. It's if the HPV virus persists, it results in precancerous lesions. It is these lesions if not treated that then leads to cancer of the cervix, vulva or vagina. In men, It could lead to cancer of the penis or anus. In both sexes, it could also lead to cancer of the mouth or throat.
Risk Factors/ Causes
Apart from HPV being the greatest risk factor of CC, there are other factors that greatly contribute to CC.
Smoking:This can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer in 2 ways. First, A smoker has a higher chance of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia(this is the precancerous stage of CC) occurring and this can lead to Cervical Cancer. Smoking also aids in the development of HPV. Either ways, smoking is really bad and can lead to a lot of different types of cancer.
Oral Contraceptive:No one really knows the reason for this, but a long continuous use of oral contraceptive for a long period of time increases your chances of developing CC. The longer the continuous use, the higher the chances for developing CC is increased. The chances however, goes back to normal once the contraceptive is discontinued. A continuous use of oral contraceptive for 10 years increases the chances of developing CC by 30%. Seek proper advice from a doctor before using oral contraceptive.
Other Causes/risk factors include:
- HIV infection
- Immune system suppression
- Past or current Chlamydia infection (this is a very common STD).
- Having three or more full term pregnancies
- Having a first full term pregnancy before age 17
- Being Overweight
The HPV infection is mostly spread through sexual or skin to skin contact.
In the early stages of CC, there are usually no symptoms. Symptoms only begin to show when the cancerous tissues begin to invade the normal tissues.
Some Symptoms Include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Vaginal bleeding aftersex
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Pain during sex
Symptoms of Advanced Cervical Cancer Include:
- Loss of Appetite
- Weight loss and fatigue
- Pelvic pain, back and leg pain
- Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam.
Cervical Cancer is diagnosed through a pap smear. If suspicious cells are noticed, further tests like x-rays and biopsies are carried out to confirm suspicion and stage of cancer.
The most important Preventive method is regular pap smear. This has dramatically reduced the rate of mortality in developed countries(however, women in developing countries are not so lucky due to lack of facilities in the health system).It is recommended that women between the ages of 21 and 60 should do a pap smear test every 3 years. Any precancerous cell detected during a pap smear will be treated, there by blocking chances of further development.
How do i manage A Positive diagnosis?
There are various treatments of Cervical Cancer depending on the stage it is at the time of diagnosis. Precancerous changes in the cervix may be treated with cryosurgery, cauterization or lazer surgery. Chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy are all viable treatments for already developed CC. Doctors and specialists will carefully determine mode of treatment depending on the best available options.
The survival rates of an early detected Cervical Cancer is very high. There is almost a 100% chance of survival. However, there are 4 stages of CC; each stage deeper, decreases survival chances by 20%.
Research is ever on going as scientists work hard to improve methods of treating Precancers and CC , and also to improve chances of early detection.
Application of Antiviral medication to the cervix is being tested to see if it can be an alternative to surgery in precancerous changes to the cervix.
New therapies are being studied and testing of HPV vaccine continues;to determine if the vaccine may be able to kill already developed HPV.
Worldwide, Cervical Cancer is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer in women.
In Africa, the outcome is even worse because women(especially the uneducated ones)don't think its necessary to go for pap smear tests.
Most of them are not even aware of it.If they eventually become aware, they consider it expensive and frivolous.
Poverty is actually also a risk factor of developing CC because most poor people are not aware or do not have the means for regular tests.
Most diagnosis in Africa is made at the last stage of the cancer, when the severe symptoms are present. By then, it's almost too late.
I am using this medium to plead.If you are a woman reading this, strive to do your regular pap smear test. Men reading this, please encourage your female loved ones to always go for a pap smear.
Everyone should always try to practice safe sex. Do not keep multiple sexual partners.
Thank you for reading!
Until my next post, Stay healthy!
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