Cervical Cancer threatens South African women : here’s how to lower your risk

We all shudder at the word CANCER. It casts a shadow over us and we hope that it will not linger over our bodies. Since  research suggests that only five percent of cancers are hereditary, we are made  fully aware through the media and cancer campaigns, of how  adapting our lifestyles to prevent non -inherited cancers can minimise our risks.  Through being choice full of the food we eat, exercise we do, smoking  we must not do, excessive drinking that is not a good idea – nor is obesity – we have  a grounded sense of being somewhat in control of preventing cancer.
 Seldom do we put the words “cancer ” and “sexuality” together. Yet there is one cancer that is caused primarily due to heterosexual penetrative sex and that is cervical cancer. This  is  a cancer that we can prevent through an adherence to healthy sexual practices. Yet as we know, practicing healthy sexuality is a difficult ask.  I bring you a conversation on cervical cancer to heighten your awareness of how crucial , even death defying, it is to bring safer sexuality into your lives. And to inform you that there are  ways to avoid cervical cancer.
Like with HIV/AIDS/STI’s , the burden of this  illness falls on women. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in South African women. One in four South African women will get cervical cancer and 70% of them will die. And they die primarily due to late detection ,  ignorance, and lack of access to  screening services and to the HPV vaccination early in life.  Once again we are failing the women of this country.
Early detection is the solution .
 This is how women get cervical cancer.
A quick anatomy lesson : The uterine cervix is the lowest portion of a woman’s uterus (womb), connecting the uterus with the vagina.

If you as a man/ woman have had multiple partners, and do not consistently and correctly use a condom each time, and the male /female  is infected with HPV – Human Papilloma Virus -,  and the woman begins penetration early in her life (before age 16 years) ,  is a smoker, and uses the pill only with no condom insistence,  by penetrating a woman vaginally   you have a high chance of  becoming infecting  with HPV as you have a greater exposure to HPV.  –   Seems pretty unfair, right ?! Why cut down pleasure of plentiful sex with as many partners as you choose, why use cancer as a reason to moralise or control our sexuality ? There is  a way around this, a way to continue to be sexually happy whilst being responsible (condoms are always non negotiable )  and preventing cervical cancer.  … and its called early detection plus HPV vaccination.

Most women diagnosed with precancerous changes in the cervix are in their 20s and 30s, but the average age of women when they are diagnosed with cervical cancer is the mid 50s. This difference in the age at which precancerous changes are most frequently diagnosed and the age at which cancer is diagnosed highlights the slow progression of this disease and the reason why it can be prevented if adequate steps are taken.

Because it is so slow growing, it’s progression through precancerous changes provides opportunities for prevention, early detection, and treatment.

Take home message : Better means of detection  mean a decline in cervical cancer !

Questions for you to consider :
* How high is your awareness of cervical cancer ?
* How well informed do you feel about cervical cancer ?
* How regularly do you go for Pap Smears ? If not, why not ?
* Have you been vaccinated against HPV?
* Do you know if you are infected with HPV ?
* If you know that you have genital/anal warts, have you been treated?
* If you are aware of your HPV status, do you disclose to a sexual partner?
* Do you disclose to a casual partner , significant partner or both ? Motivate reasons
*Is it   a relationship deal breaker ??
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It causes genital warts.  Women who have been diagnosed with HPV are more likely to develop  cervical cancer.According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, HPV causes 99 percent of cervical cancers. When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small group of women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells. Most women with HPV will not get cervical cancer. The virus often resolves on its own in two years or less without any treatments. However, some people may continue to be infected long after exposure.

HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine. Even if you have had sex with only on person !  About one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any given time.Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person!  You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected.

You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. Your first  and only symptom may be genital warts.  Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms or health problems from it.  Women may find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during cervical cancer screening).

Take home message : You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Many sexual partners. The greater your number of sexual partners — and the greater your partner’s number of sexual partners — the greater your chance of acquiring HPV.
  • Early sexual activity. Having sex at an early age increases your risk of HPV.
  • Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Having other STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS — increases your risk of HPV.
  • A weak immune system. You may be more likely to develop cervical cancer if your immune system is weakened by another health condition and you have HPV.
  • Smoking. Smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer.

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THE GOOD NEWS! 

Early detection through Pap smear . Intercare Primary Care Centre.

Intercare Primary Care Centers  have initiated a  Cervical Cancer Campaign. Each and everyone of their general practitioners is trained to do early detection on you via a Pap smear.  No need to go to a gynaecologist. Simply make  booking with any one of their trained GP’s, have a chat and a pap smear. it could literally save your life.

When it’s detected in its earliest stages, cervical cancer is considered one of the most treatable cancer types. According to the American Cancer Society, deaths from cervical cancer have declined by 50 percent in the past 30 years. Getting regular Pap tests to check for precancerous cells is thought to be one of the most important and effective means of prevention. Getting vaccinated against HPV and undergoing regular Pap test screenings can help you reduce your risk for cervical cancer.

For more information on Cervical Cancer, Contact INTERCARE PRIMARY CARE CENTRES : Book your PAP Smear now ! early detection saves lives !