Assuming that we all remembered to include; “taking my healthcare more seriously” in our 2019 resolutions or plans, it is my duty then to impart you with the knowledge that you will need to help you stay healthy.
According to the 2019 WELLNESS AWARENESS calendar, January is the world cervical cancer awareness month. Now cervical cancer is one of the most treatable cancers but sadly our people continue dying from its complications. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women after breast cancer according to the Kenya Network of Cancer Organizations. This is mainly because of the fact that they present to the hospital when it is already in advanced stages, when the doctor cannot do much except just make them comfortable while they await death.
This doesn’t have to be case. We can decide to do better as patients, as a society.
Here is what we need to know about cervical cancer;
The cervix, also known as the uterine cervix is the lower part of the uterus, normally cylindrical in shape, and about one inch long. This is the part that is normally affected by the cancer, before the cancer cells move to the other parts of the body in a process called metastasis.
Unlike other cancers whose causes are still unknown, cervical cancer has almost always been associated with the infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) especially sub types 16 and 18.
HPV IS SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED.
It appears to be common in women who have multiple sexual partners, women who smoke, women with a low immunity (HIV positive), and also women who start sexual relations at a younger age, and those with promiscuous male partners.
After infection with the human papilloma virus, it usually takes about ten to twenty years before the cancer develops. This is good news because it means that if a woman presents at this time to the hospital, then something can be done before the actual cancer develops.
Prevention of cervical cancer;
Well we obviously have to reduce the risk factors; don’t smoke or stop if you already started, reduce the number of sexual partners to one (it is possible right?), dump promiscuous sex partners.
VACCINATION AND SCREENING
If we have any plans as a country to eliminate cervical cancer like the way most countries in the West have, then we need to embrace vaccination and screening as the strategies. If the government is very serious about the delivery of Universal Health Care, then we can do what other countries have done; develop a system of vaccinating our young girls against HPV.
The government could also incorporate screening services and a system to refer patients who have positive pap smears in services provided in government facilities.
Cervarix and Gerdasil are vaccines that are available locally and are used against the human papilloma virus which is the causative agent of cervical cancer.
Girls from the age of nine to thirteen are eligible for these vaccines.
Is active against HPV 16 and 18
It is administered in three doses at 0, 6 and 12 months intervals
Can be given to girls aged between eleven and twelve
Active against HPV 6, 16 and 18
Administered in three injections six months apart
Can be given to girls aged between nine to thirteen.
The most common screening method is the PAP SMEARS.
When did you last have your pap smear?
Have you ever had a pap smear?
Do you know what a pap smear is?
Papanicolaou smear or just pap smear is a screening method used to identify pre cancerous cells in women.
Women below 21 years of age do not need screening.
Women aged between 21-29 years will require pap smears every three years.
Women aged between 30-65b years of age, who have had negative pap smears will requitre to go for pap smears every five years.
Women who are HIV negative though require yearly pap smears or as directed by their doctors.
If for some reason you had your uterus removed; complete hysterectomy, then you don’t need to go for pap smears at all.