Cervical cancer

Catch that cancer before it catches you

Your 50 year-old auntie has been complaining of severe back pain for 2 months, she is also having difficulty holding her urine on and off. With your busy schedule you have done your best to take her to a clinic in your neighbourhood. She is being treated for lower back pain but the symptoms disappear for a few days and come back in full force. Finally she develops vaginal bleeding and you dedicate a whole day off work to take her to the gynecologist, where she is diagnosed with an advanced cervical cancer. The doctor mentions that the chances of survival are bleak.

Sadly this typical story could happen to any of your female relatives. It could be your sister, your mother, your grandmother or any friend within the child-bearing age. Of course cancer can be a scary ordeal for the patient and family members dealing with the disease. But the purpose of this article is to provide you with guidance and the HOPE that this disease is perfectly preventable. This is especially true if check-ups for cervical cancer are made routine within your medical care.

What does statistics show?

There has been a good deal of media and public health attention on breast cancer and screening programs for it. This is a good thing and should not be faulted. However, World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that of the cancers affecting Ugandan women Cervical Cancer is the number one culprit, followed by Kaposi’s Sarcoma (an HIV/ AIDS related cancer) with Breast Cancer coming third in total cancer cases within Uganda.

  • In Uganda, Cervical Cancer is the leading cause of female cancer deaths
  • It accounts for 45 – 50% bed occupancy in Mulago hospital
  • Gynecological wards
  • The average woman diagnosed is 47years old

How does Cervical Cancer develop?

Cervical cancer is caused by a group of viruses called Human Papilloma Virus. These viruses are present in some men. Once sexual activity begins, there is exposure to Human Papilloma Virus from the woman’s partner. The lining of the cervix begins to change and grow. When this growth becomes excessive, it becomes what doctors call cancer. Furthermore women who are HIV positive, have a weakened immune system so being infected by HPV means that cervical cancer develops faster in their bodies.

Simple ways to identify Cervical Cancer

  • Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Extra bleeding between monthly periods
  • Foul smelling vaginal discharge
  • Persistent lower abdominal pain and backache
  • Difficulty holding urine or stool (incontinence)

Importance of Cervical Cancer screening

  • 3 years after a woman’s first vaginal intercourse encounter she should have a Pap test or Pap smear done by a trained medical professional
  • If the Pap smear is abnormal your doctor will recommend further testing such as an exam under anesthesia to fully visualize the cervix and to obtain cells for viewing under a microscope
  • If the test is normal the doctor or mid-wife will advise you on when next to make a return appointment based on your individual age and risk factors