Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers because of its slow growth rate and the preventative methods that are available.
The disease is most commonly caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). The risk of cervical cancer is exacerbated by early sexual contact and multiple sexual partners. There are many different forms of HPV (100 numbered genotypes); 14 of these genotypes are associated with cervical cancer.
The best defence against HPV is the vaccine. This protects you from the virus and significantly reduces your chances of developing cervical cancer. The problem is that it’s not effective if you already have HPV. For this reason, it’s very important for young girls between 9 and 12 years of age to have the HPV vaccine.
Causes of cervical cancer
HPV causes abnormal tissue changes in the cervix. It can be invasive and metastasise (spread to other organs, generally the bladder, liver, lungs and vagina.)
In a paper by Heather L. White et al., Integrating cervical cancer screening and preventive treatment with family planning and HIV-related services It states that ‘Cervical cancer is the fourth most common female cancer worldwide, with 85% of incident cases occurring in low-resource regions The incidence rate for cervical cancer is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.’
One of the primary reasons for this staggering statistic is that HIV is prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa; women living with HIV are more susceptible to developing chronic infection of HPV, which increases the chances of developing cervical cancer.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
- Painful sex
- Vaginal bleeding (other than menstrual cycle)
- Vaginal discharge
- Heavier than normal periods
Cervical cancer is slow-growing and therefore precancerous changes in the cervix can be detected early, which enhances the success of prevention and treatment methods. Because of this, regular screenings are highly recommended. The majority of women between 21 –65 years of age can have a pap smear test that will pick up changes in cervical cells.
If you do have an abnormal pap smear, the doctor will most likely run more tests to determine whether there are cancer cells in your cervix.
At Marie Stopes South Africa, we offer STI screenings and a pap smear test as part of our Women Wellness services. We currently have 17 centres, situated in convenient locations across the country.
If you are unsure whether you have HPV and would like a pap smear test as well as screenings for other STIs, visit your nearest Marie Stopes centre.
You can make an appointment by filling in the webform. Alternatively, you can call Marie Stopes South Africa on 0800 11 77 85.