If I asked you what cancer was the most common among women in Sub-Saharan Africa, what would you say? The answer to that question would be cervical cancer or cancer of the cervix. The women most at risk in Sub-Saharan Africa are those who live in the countryside and are 35-60 years old.
However, both younger and older women who have had multiple sexual partners and/or have had multiple children are at the highest risk of contracting cervical cancer. This is because the strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer are transmitted by having sex.
Cervical cancer accounts for most of the deaths caused by cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet it is a condition that can be prevented and possibly cured if caught early. Find out more about this disease and spread the knowledge to everyone that you know.
ALL ABOUT CERVICAL CANCER
The cervix is the lower (and narrower) part of the womb or uterus. It is connected to the vagina and is a part of the birth canal.
– One of the main causes of cervical cancer is an infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is known to cause 90% of cervical cancer cases! When the virus infects the cells of the cervix, it can cause changes that make the cells cancerous. These cells can form a tumour that is cancerous (or a malignant tumour).
– If the cancer grows, it can spread in the cervix and uterus, and beyond the walls of the pelvis and the vagina. The malignant tumour can continue to grow the block the ducts that transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder, known as the ureters. This can affect you being able to urinate, or pee. When the cancer becomes very advanced, it could spread to the bladder, the rectum or to the rest of the body (by the blood, the lymph system or direct invasion).
– It is VITAL to identify whether you may have cervical cancer early, so you can be properly treated. You can only do this by getting screened by medical professionals.
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER
Typically, a person with cervical cancer may not experience symptoms during the earlier stages. Later on, the cancer can increase in size. If this occurs, the person can experience bleeding from the vagina between periods, during sex, after douching or after menopause. Other symptoms include:
- pain during sex
- increased amounts of fluid produced from the vagina (also known as vaginal discharge)
- unpleasant smelling discharge
- Having prolonged or heavy periods
When the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, symptoms that can appear include:
- issues with passing urine, losing control of your bladder, seeing blood in your urine, having problems passing feces, blood in your feces, swelling of the legs, losing weight, being short of breath, feeling tired, pain in the bones, having a decreased appetite, constipation (having problems with passing feces) or having pain in your pelvis or lower back that may shoot down one or both legs.
Because cervical cancer tends not to present with any symptoms in its early stages, it is very important to get screened by a medical professional.
RISK FACTORS FOR GETTING CERVICAL CANCER
- Using birth control pills over an extended period of time
- Having African heritage
- Giving birth to several children
- Having multiple persons that you had sex with
- Having a sexual partner that has had sex with multiple individuals
- Not having a strong immune system (in other words, your body may have trouble fighting off diseases)
- Hygiene/cleanliness issues
- Having taken diethylstilbestrol in the past. Diethylstilbestrol is a version of estrogen, a compound that helps females develop sexually.
- Having HIV
If you or anyone you know has given birth to multiple children, it is critical that they should get screened to find out if they have cervical cancer.
CAN I PREVENT MYSELF FROM GETTING CERVICAL CANCER?
- Yes you can.
- Get screened for cervical cancer.
- This is very important because cervical cancer may not show any symptoms in its earlier stages, and its symptoms can be confused with other conditions. It is also important to identify if you have the cancer earlier than later, so that the treatment can be more effective and the cancer may not spread in your body.
- Consider taking the vaccine for HPV. This can help your body fight off an infection by HPV.
- If you are engaging in sex:
- Limit the number of sexual partners that you may have
- Be in a relationship where the person you are having sex with is only having sex with you and you are only having sex with them
- Use condoms during sex
- Eat foods rich in:
Vitamin A (e.g. fish or carrots)
Vitamin B12 (e.g. eggs, meat, milk)
Vitamin C (e.g. oranges, peas tomatoes, or bell peppers)
Vitamin E (e.g. almonds, sweet potato, spinach, palm oil, butternut squash)
Beta-carotene (e.g. carrots, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce)
WHAT HAPPENS IF I HAVE CERVICAL CANCER?
Go to a medical professional to get proper treatment. Some of the treatment methods include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or other drug therapies. You should also speak to them to find out more about your condition and the next steps you have to take.
If cervical cancer is caught early, chemotherapy with either surgery or radiation can be used to remove the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy the cancer cells, while radiation uses high-energy particles. If the disease is caught later on, a person may be treated with both radiation and chemotherapy. Only when the cancer has progressed a lot, will chemotherapy be used alone.
If you have found out that you have cervical cancer, try to find a group of persons who you can trust and who can support you. Think about your future plans, your relationships, and your finances. Get some rest, exercise, preserve your energy, watch your diet and take it day by day.
Please ensure that you consult a medical professional to get screened for cervical cancer!