How to nip cervical cancer in the bud.

Part 2 of 2 article, Prevention: This is the most important aspect of this piece. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and curable cancers in the world. Because it is a slowly growing cancer, regular screening is one good way to nip it in the bud. In the United States for instance, due to popular practice of screening, cases of cervical cancer are said to have reduced by about 70%! Making regular screening an effective form of secondary prevention.

Screening types: though the cancer is commoner in middle-aged women; beginning from twenties, it is advised that women continue screening into the 7th decade, as it has been known to occur till the late sixties. It is important to note that most women who come down with cervical cancer have never had a screening done. There are many screening tests that aid in early detection of cervical cancer.

Perhaps the most popular is the Papanicolaou (pap) smear: This test, named after the discoverer is cytology based. That is, its principle is based on cell study. To carry out the test therefore, some cells are scraped from the cervix and taken to the lab for analysis. The result which should be ready in a few days is highly reliable in detecting cancerous cells. The downside of Pap smear and perhaps the reason why few women embraced it in our setting include: The stress of two visits; for testing and for result collection, The relatively high cost, coupled with lack of ready availability of expertise (most especially as the few interested in the screening often prefer being screened only by female medical practitioners) Pap smear generally requires well-trained hands and substantial resources to carry out, but still remains the gold standard in medical circles for cervical cancer screening.

Visual inspection tests: These tests are usually carried out by staining the cervix with vinegar or iodine and interpreting the result based on an immediate color change. They are recommended for a resource-poor setting like Nigeria for the following reasons:1) They are affordable and some organizations actually do it for FREE. 2) They are easy to interpret, so require less intense training of personnel. 3) They give results immediately, hence require a single visit, during which immediate treatment can also take place. In addition, visual inspection tests are very sensitive tests and more reliable at detecting cancer-free cells. There are other screening tests such as colposcopy, biopsy and HPV DNA that could be suggested by your doctor based on your own situation.

Vaccination: A major breakthrough in the primary prevention of cervical cancer is the availability of vaccines against the human papilloma virus (HPV). These vaccines are said to be more than 90% protective against cervical cancer. They are recommended for all females above 9 yrs, to enable them acquire immunity against the HPV strains which are responsible for majority of cervical cancers. It is believed that young females will benefit while they are yet not sexually active and hence not exposed to HPV virus. In the same vein, adult females will benefit, even with previous infection, as not only will the vaccine protect against the specific strains it contained, it will also enhance protection against other cancer-causing strain. In addition to vaccination, sexually active adult female must go for screening every 1 to 3 years

What to do? In ridding our nation of this scourge, Every woman should: 1) Get screened 2) Get vaccinated 3) Know the symptoms of cervical cancer and 4) Get prompt treatment
Conclusion: Need I say more? Your cervix is now in your court!!
Written with Dr. D. Talabi, Family Medicine Physician, Lagos.
Dr. Ngozi Onuoha. Copyright 2016, Health4Naija LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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