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Get screened for cervical cancer (Pap smear)

Published: 
Sunday, February 4, 2018

There are many cancers affecting women in T&T.

Whilst we are aware of the importance of breast cancer and how it impacts women and their families, running closely behind it is cervical cancer. The statistics show that worldwide cervical cancer is ranked as the third most common cancer amongst women. With such a disease affecting the lives of so many, it is valuable to note that screening is available.

Cervical cancer screening has been implemented across the globe and its widespread use has been able to save many lives.

Screening entails being able to routinely test patients to detect the disease but does not prevent the disease from occurring. In cervical cancer screening, the well-known Papanicolaou (Pap) smear test allows a sample of cervical cells to be obtained and sent to the laboratory. This is a relatively inexpensive and readily available test at many clinics.

With the advent and utilisation of the Pap smear in many countries, it has greatly increased a doctor’s ability to detect the presence of precancerous or cancer cells. In this way, early detection can be achieved leading to a decline in the mortality rate.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG), the recommended age group for screening is between 21 to 65 years of age. There has been much research and studies into the ethology of precancer changes and cancer of the cervix.

It has been found that there is a strong association of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Worldwide, data shows that HPV has been detected in approximately 90 per cent of cervical cancers.

There are over 100 type of HPV however, not all are associated with malignant changes of the cervix. Some types are responsible for anogenital warts and some are oncogenic (cancer causing). Approximately 15 subtypes lead to cervical cancer and are detected in about 99 per cent of these cases. Of these, subtypes 18 and 31 are found in approximately 70 per cent of cases. As a result of this valuable information, it has led to the discovery and introduction of a vaccine for the most common oncogenic subtypes of HPV.

Speaking to your doctor about whether the vaccine is appropriate for you is important.

However, being vaccinated does not negate the importance of still being screened by your doctor, as the vaccine does not cover all the oncogenic subtypes.

Cervical cancer screening can save the lives of many by early detection of abnormal cell changes, thereby giving women the opportunity for appropriate treatment options before they turn into cervical cancer.

Once found early cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:

•Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam may also occur.

•An unusual discharge from the vagina−the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.

•Pain during sex.

•These signs and symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer. For example, an infection can cause pain or bleeding. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, see a health care professional right away. Ignoring symptoms may allow the cancer to grow to a more advanced stage and lower your chance for effective treatment. Even better, don’t wait for symptoms to appear. Have regular screening tests for cervical cancer.

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