Every year in September South Africa commemorates Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. The aim is to encourage screening for this cancer , against which young girls can be vaccinated.
Cervical cancer is the cancer causing most deaths among women in many developing countries. The second most common cancer among South African women is cervical cancer. The only more common cancer is breast cancer, and says the Cancer Association of South Africa, one in every 42 women in the country will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Early detection of cervix cell changes means that treatment can be started before the cervical cancer has caused any symptoms, increasing the likelihood of the treatment being successful.
Regular Pap smear tests (in which cells taken from the cervix are looked at under a microscope) can detect the condition while it still pre-cancerous.
The causes of cervical cancer
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, where it connects to the vagina. Unlike many other cancers, cervical cancer is mostly caused by a virus: the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted disease. Not everyone infected with HPV gets cervical cancer, though. Other factors, such as your environment or your lifestyle choices can also play a role in whether you get cervical cancer, or not.
Like other cancers, cervical cancer begins when healthy cells turn into abnormal cells and start to grow out of control, forming a mass, or tumour. Cancer cells can spread from the cervix to other places/organs in the body.
The symptoms and risk factors of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer in its early stages often has no symptoms. Later symptoms of this type of cancer can include vaginal bleeding (outside of periods), a vaginal discharge with a foul odour, and pelvic pain during intercourse.
The risk factors for cervical cancer include a high number of sexual partners, early sexual activity, having other sexually transmitted infections, having a weak immune system, and being a smoker.
A common treatment for cervical cancer is chemotherapy, where drugs that destroy cancer cells are injected into the body. Surgery (the type of surgery depends on how far the cancer has spread) and radiation, in which high energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells.
The HPV vaccination can protect against cervical cancer, and the SA government started a programme in 2014 to vaccinate all girls in Grade 4 in the country.
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