Cervical cancer: Are you at risk?
September is cervical cancer awareness month in South Africa, and we’re taking a look at the facts that every woman needs to know about this serious but largely detectable disease.
Cervical cancer affects roughly one in 41 South African women, and Statistics South Africa estimates that 16.84-million women over the age of 15 are at risk of the disease in this country. At present, roughly eight South African women die from the disease every day, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that this figure could rise to 12 by 2025. If you’ve never had a pap smear, you need to read this article – it could save your life or the life of someone you love.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the tissue of the cervix. Usually, it is a slow-progressing cancer that may not have obvious or immediate symptoms, but can be detected by a pap smear. A pap smear is a procedure in which a sample of cervical cells are examined under a microscope and checked for irregularities.
What causes cervical cancer?
As with any other form of cancer, there are many health and lifestyle factors that contribute to the growth of malignant cells in the cervix. However, the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common of all sexually transmitted infections, is the cause of most cases of cervical cancer. HPV is spread through genital skin contact during sex, when bodily fluids mix. There are many different types of HPV: some may lead to cancer and genital warts, while others cause no problems at all and can go undetected for many years.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of the disease, but in some cases, there may be no noticeable symptoms until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. Cervical cancer is preceded by a precancerous condition called dysplasia, which is 100% treatable and can be detected by a pap smear. This is why it’s so crucial for all women to have regular pap smears as soon as they become sexually active, ideally once a year, throughout their lives. Today, most women diagnosed with cervical cancer have failed to have regular pap smears or have not followed up after an abnormal pap smear result. Whether or not treatment may be successful depends on various factors, including: the stage of the cancer; the shape and size of the tumour; the general health of the woman; her age and her desire to have children in future.
Where can I go for a pap smear?
Pap smears are available at your GP, any local public health facility or at any Marie Stopes centre in SA. The procedure is quick and simple, and the results will reveal whether or not you’re at risk of cervical cancer. If you’ve never had a pap smear or it’s been more than a year since your last one, book an appointment now.