What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a cancer that starts in a woman's cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus. It connects the vagina (or birth canal) to the uterus (womb). Human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection, is a primary cause of cervical cancer. However, not all HPV infections lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer usually starts with changes to the cells on the cervix, called dysplasia. These abnormal cells can be removed to prevent cancer if found early.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

In the early stages of cervical cancer, there are often no symptoms. The longer a woman has cervical cancer without treatment, the more likely she will have symptoms. Some of the symptoms of later-stage cervical cancer can include:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge (more than usual)
  • Bleeding after sex, between periods, or after a pelvic exam
  • Pain during sex or urination

If you have any of these symptoms, visit the health facility nearest to you. These symptoms may be caused by something else, but the only way to know for sure is to see your healthcare provider.

What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?

A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of getting a disease. Any woman can get cervical cancer, but some women are at higher risk because of factors such as:

  • Having the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV)

HPV causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Both men and women can have HPV.

HPV often goes away on its own, but if it does not, it could cause cervical cancer in women. Many women will have a HPV infection at some point in their lives, but few will get cervical cancer.

  • Not Getting Screened

Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have not been screened (tested or examined). Cancer screening is looking for cancer before you have any signs and symptoms. Cancer found early may be easier to treat.

When you get screened, health care providers will check for the presence of abnormal cells or for HPV infection. Women who have been screened but do not follow up with their health care provider when results are abnormal are also more likely to develop cervical cancer.

  • Smoking

Women who smoke are about two times more likely to get cervical cancer, compared to women who do not smoke.

Research shows that cigarettes may damage the cells of the cervix, which can lead to cervical cancer. Smoking also weakens the immune system, making it harder to fight off HPV infections.

  • Age

Women over the age of 30 are more likely to get cervical cancer.

Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Having been treated for cervical cancer before or for abnormal cells that may become cancer
  • Giving birth three or more times
  • Having multiple sexual partners is a risk factor for HPV which is the primary cause for cancer.
  • Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or any other condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off infections

How can I lower my chances of getting cervical cancer?

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Some risk factors, like age, cannot be controlled, but others can. Some ways to lower the risk of cervical cancer or prevent it entirely are:

  • Get Vaccinated

The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer. It is recommended for both males and females.

In females, the HPV vaccine helps to prevent cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It also protects against cancer of the anus, mouth, and throat.

The Vaccine is given to girls aged 9-11 years.

  • Get Screened

Cervical cancer can be prevented or found early with regular checkups. There is one screening test that can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:

Visual Inspection using Acetic acid screening test

With this the health care provider will discuss with you about the screening test then a device called “speculum” will be carefully inserted into the vagina to expose the cervix. Then acetic acid is applied to it and observed for color change. If it turns positive, treatment is done on the spot and if negative, you will be given a card (Biodata, a unique assigned number, parity, vital sign (Blood pressure readings) the screening type done with the result and the next possible return date)

Cervical Cancer Screening Recommendations for Women at Average Risk

  • Women aged 18 to 65 years have the choice to get screened every 5 years
  • Women who are not having sex or who think they're too old to have a child should still have regular cervical cancer screenings.
  • Women who have had the HPV vaccine still need regular screening.
  • Women can stop getting screened if they are older than 65 and have had normal screening test results for 10 years.
  • Women who have had their cervix removed during surgery for a non-cancerous reason, such as fibroids, may not need screening.

Where can I get a cervical cancer screening?

Cervical cancer screening is freely available in all IRC facilities in Kakuma and the Main hospital in Hagadera.

Can I get treatment for cervical cancer?

YES. Only if it is diagnosed early.

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