While January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we should certainly not stop creating awareness. There are certain things that every woman needs to know about Cervical Cancer. Most importantly, the need to better understand what it is, cervical cancer symptoms, cervical cancer causes, as well as cervical cancer vaccines.
What is cancer and what is cervical cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which cell growth goes out of control. In addition to this, it can occur in almost every part of the body. The cervix of a woman connects the upper part of the vagina (the birth canal) to the uterus (womb, which houses the baby during pregnancy). Cervical cancer develops when a woman develops cancer in her cervix. Which certainly means all women are at risk of cervical cancer and mostly happens after the age of 30.
Facts and Figures
Cervical cancer is important in Nigeria and all over the world. This is because it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, second only to breast cancer. In Nigeria, we record over 14,000 cases of cervical cancer each year and over 8,000 deaths.
Cervical cancer is an important cause of early loss of life as a result it affects relatively young women, especially in Nigeria. As many as 26 Nigerian women die every day of cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Risk Factors
The main cause of cervical cancer is a long-standing infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Understanding this allows us to provide primary prevention (cervical cancer vaccine) and secondary prevention (screening) of this disease.
This is important because we can detect it early by identifying cervical cancer symptoms, prevent illness, and significantly reduce costs of care.
Other important causes of cervical cancer include smoking, early sexual debut, multiple sexual partners and partners with other sexually transmitted infections. Some other causes include weakened immune systems, long-term use (over five years) of birth control pills, as well as a family history of cervical cancer.
Symptoms, Prevention of Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Precancerous changes or very early-stage disease are usually asymptomatic and detected on a cervical smear, as a result regular screening is advised. Spontaneous contact bleeding is an important cervical cancer symptom. It is important for all women who have bleeding with sexual intercourse to report as quickly as possible to their healthcare provider. Other important symptoms include bleeding between periods, bleeding in post-menopausal, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, as well as pelvic pain or backache.
Prevention of Cervical Cancer
Immunization with the HPV vaccine is an important way to prevent cervical cancer. Depending on the age of the recipient and the specific vaccine, the vaccination requires multiple doses. Overall, to reduce the death rate from cervical cancer having regular screening tests starting at age 21 is necessary. Detecting cervical cancer early makes it very treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.
Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) test
One important, convenient and available screen for the early detection of cervical cancer is Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) test this involves staining the cervix with a solution which shows specific changes if early cancer is present.
The VIA test if negative will allow us to immediately inform a woman of the test outcome, reassure and advise them on when next they can come for a screen (usually no less than a year from the screen). With a positive result, we can immediately counsel a woman and appropriately plan her treatment. This reduces delays in accessing lifesaving care.
Liquid-Based cytology is another form of screening. Considered the gold standard of screening and highly accurate results can be ready within a week.
How do the vaccines work?
The cervical cancer vaccine when received causes your immune system to produce antibodies against the HPV types contained in the vaccines. The antibodies may help defend against developing infection and disease depending on your exposure level.
Only girls and women use cervarix. Unlike the Gardasil and Gardasil 9 vaccines, which are for both males and females. A key feature of Cervarix is that it protects against infection with HPV types 16 and 18 only. Even in the case of a positive HPV test or abnormal Pap smear, Cervarix is essential. The dosage of Cervarix is a series of three shots, as an intramuscular injection in the upper arm, to any female between the ages of 9 and 25 years.
The second dose occurs one month after the first dose and the third dose 6 months after the first dose. Cervarix does not replace the routine examination to screen for cervical cancer. Women should still get their routine cervical cancer screening.
The 9 valent vaccine- (Gardasil-9) is used in both males and females. The 9 valent vaccine prevents diseases caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 only. Gardasil- (the 4 valent) provides protection against HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. In both men and women, it helps prevent anal cancer and protect against genital warts. Additionally, in females, it helps prevent vaginal and vulval cancers as well as cervical cancer.
To present Gardasil 9, it is a series of two or three shots. With the first shot given between the ages of 9 and 45 years and the second given two to six months from the first. Finally, the third occurs anytime from six to twelve months from your first shot. It is important to note that you only need two shots if you get the first dose under the age of 15.
Like Cervarix, getting the Gardasil 9 shot does not treat HPV infection, cancer or its complications. Gardasil may not fully protect each recipient of the vaccine. However, women should still get their routine cervical cancer screening.
Book an Appointment
Visit Ingress Health Partners clinic and book an appointment for Cervical cancer screen and HPV vaccination.
Our women’s health prevention practice at Ingress Health Partners has a full-time Doctor and nurse dedicated to the care of women. Here we provide various affordable options for screening for early detection of cervical and breast cancer (the two leading causes of cancer deaths in women in Nigeria).
We screen using the Enhanced Visual Assessment of the Cervix (EVA) - an upgraded form of the VIA, and/or with liquid-based cytology (LBC).
We offer HPV immunization on appointment for both males and females, in addition to one of the several currently available forms including Gardasil 9 and Cervarix.
At Ingress Health Partners, we also provide family planning services and care for women, in addition to anticipatory guidance and immunizations for children after delivery.
You can call us on 0906 500 0500 to make an appointment or go through our website www.ingresshealthpartners.com or visit us at 188 Borno Way Ebute Metta, and let us take care of you.