January is cervical cancer awareness month, and this week is cervical cancer prevention week (22nd – 28th January 2017) but for a cancer that kills more women than any other cancer except breast cancer, awareness is still low. Whether you have a cervix or you have loved ones who do, here are 10 things you should know about cervical cancer.
1. Cervical cancer is cancer arising from the cervix – the neck of the uterus (womb) – due to abnormal growth of cells that can attack or spread to other parts of the body.
2. Cervical cancer is NOT rare. It is very common. In fact, here in Africa it is the second most common cancer in women. Whereas in developed countries the widespread use of cervical screening programmes has dramatically reduced rates of cervical cancer, women in low-income countries still die of this cancer in alarming numbers.
3. Symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal bleeding from the vagina: bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause.
4. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer.
5. Women should eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene are all associated with lower risk, so you can reduce your risk by including enough fruits and vegetables in your diet.
6. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is the most common viral STD and the cause of more than 90% of all cervical cancer, can be contracted without penetration. You can get it from oral sex, anal sex and any genital skin-to-skin contact and because it can infect areas that are not covered by a condom, condoms will not fully protect you against contracting it.
7. HPV has no symptoms, so it is absolutely important to go for a cervical screening test regularly. It takes only a 5 minutes. HPV does not have to lead to cervical cancer, and early detection plays a role in this.
8. HPV can be prevented through abstinence, but it is best for girl children, even those who are not yet sexually active, to receive the HPV vaccine. Please note that receiving the vaccine does not mean a woman shouldn’t go for regular screening; the HPV vaccine does not protect against ALL the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, so vaccinated women still need screening.
9. HPV is not the ONLY cause of cervical cancer. Smoking, prolonged use of birth control pills, starting sexual intercourse at a young age, and unprotected sex with HIV-positive partners are factors that predispose you to HPV.
10. To assist low-income earners, Cancer Aware Nigeria organizes free cervical cancer screening from time to time. Check out their website.