Cervical cancer may be one of the deadliest forms of the disease, but it’s also highly preventable – and you can detect its presence even before it turns into cancer.
Cervical cancer starts in the cells that line the cervix, the part of the reproductive system that joins the uterus to the vagina. What happens is that normal, healthy cells in the cervix gradually develop into pre-cancerous cells, which can lead to cancer if they’re not detected.
The good news is that it’s actually quite easy to detect these cells. That’s what your annual pap smear is for. This quick test is designed to find pre-cancerous cells so that they can be removed before they develop into cancer. Removing pre-cancerous cells – and therefore the risk of cancer – is a simple procedure. Treating fully developed cervical cancer is not.
Read more: Cervical cancer: the facts you need to know
I’m healthy, so why am I at risk of developing cervical cancer?
Roughly one in 41 South African women aged 15 and up face the risk of cervical cancer. It seldom affects women who have never been sexually active, as it’s caused by exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV), an extremely common STI that is spread through skin-to-skin contact. It’s most often spread during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.
You could be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer if you have a chronic, untreated HPV infection combined with:
- Being a smoker
- Having a weak immune system, sometimes caused by the HIV/Aids virus or use of immunosuppressants
- Being overweight
- Following an unhealthy diet
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives or IUDs
- Chlamydia infection
- Having had at least three full-term pregnancies
- Having given birth for the first time before the age of 17
- A family history of the disease
How is cervical cancer treated?
Cervical cancer treatment depends on the stage of the disease, but common types of treatment include one or a combination of: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy. Once diagnosed, your oncologist will assess the severity of the disease and recommend the most effective course of treatment based on the size, depth and invasion of the cancer.
How can I be tested for cervical cancer?
A simple annual pap smear, recommended for any sexually active woman over the age of 21, can detect pre-cancerous cells. It’s the most effective way to detect and prevent cervical cancer.
Have a pap smear ASAP to put your mind at ease. Find your nearest Marie Stopes centre, book an appointment online, and make sure you’re HPV and cervical cancer free. It’s a quick, hassle-free and affordable test that could save your life.