Cancer refers to a class of diseases in which a cell or a group of cells divide and replicate uncontrollably, intrude into adjacent cells and tissues, and ultimately spread to other parts of the body. If this spread is not controlled, it can result in death.
Cancer can be a result of internal and external factors. Some of the internal factors include inherited mutations, hormones, immune conditions and mutations that occur from metabolism. The external factors can be linked to the use of tobacco, infectious organisms, chemicals and radiation.
One of the most common types of cancers that leads to death among women is cervical cancer. This can be attributed to low economic status, lack of awareness, lack of early medical diagnosis, cultural beliefs and ignorance.
Risk factors for cervical cancer and HPV
Risk factors for cervical cancer include engaging in first intercourse at a young age, having many sexual partners, smoking, long-term use of oral contraceptives use, low socioeconomic status, family history, diethylstilbestrol, immunosuppression and presence of high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) type.
The type of HPV and the persistence of infection have become recognized as the most important factors for risk. Recently, it has been shown that more than 99% of all cervical cancers have detectable HPV DNA sequences. Most HPV infections are harmless and they clear spontaneously. Persistent infections with high-risk HPV (Type 16 and 18), can result in cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, penis and oropharynx.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women. According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 90% of deaths from cervical cancer, occur in low and middle-income countries. Most people at risk are women between the age of 15- 44 years.
Diagnosis and treatment of HPV
A healthcare provider will be able to diagnose genital warts just through observation. As for high-risk forms of HPV, symptoms may not be visible, hence the infection can be discovered through a routine pap smear or HPV test. Other tests include colposcopy and visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA).
- Diagnosis of cervical cancer
The following procedures are used to diagnose cervical cancer:
- HPV DNA test.
- Pap smear test to detect abnormal pre-cancerous cells in the cervix.
- Via-vila screening test.
- Biopsy- Procedure in which a sample of tissue is removed from the cervix so that a pathologist can view it under a microspore to check for signs of cancer.
- Importance of screening
Cervical cancer screening is a medical screening test designed to identify abnormal, potentially pro-cancerous cells within the cervix as well as cells that have progressed to the early stages of cancer.
Those who are mostly advised to frequent screening, are those who:
- Have immunosuppression.
- Are sexually active.
- Had a recent positive result for HPV.
- Have been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer screening saves lives. When cervical changes are found early, it can lower a person’s chances of dying from cervical cancer.
Men play a key role in cervical cancer prevention. Increasing spousal support for cervical cancer screening may increase screening rates. Men need to know more about the disease and the screening methods, as they play a significant role in the health behaviours of some women. Cervical cancer education interventions targeting men are needed to correct misconceptions and increase spousal support for cervical cancer screening.
The most important thing one can do to prevent cervical cancer is to get vaccinated against HPV, have regular pap and screening tests and go for medical advice when the screening test results are not normal. The best part about vaccination is that the government of Kenya has made these vaccines available to young girls and boys, between the ages of 10-15 years, even in underserved populations.
Other ways include practising safe sex and quitting smoking.
The main reason why there are high mortality rates related to cervical cancer is that the majority, despite knowing the importance of early screening and diagnosis, still find it hard to go for check-ups, due to the myths and fear of the pap smear test. People ought to make it a routine to go for a check-up to ease the speculations on the test.
Another challenge is that most people are ignorant and illiterate or they do not believe they are at risk. Some have a nonchalant attitude towards their health while others fear the test results might be positive.
Finally, financial constraint prevents people from going for screening and early diagnosis. They lack money to go for tests or seek treatment. Early diagnosis leads to effective treatment and management of serious conditions. It is imperative, therefore, for every individual to endeavour to go for cancer screening. It is really up to you, to do your due diligence and get checked. Prevention is better than cure.