By Sibonokuhle P Mpofu
Cervical cancer accounts for one-third of all cancer cases in Zimbabwe. Every woman at the reproductive age is at risk of cervical cancer and it is a leading cause of cancer death among Zimbabwe women. These figures terrified me and I decided to share a little that I know about cervical cancer maybe it will help someone with little knowledge as I was and also encourage them to go for screening.
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. In simpler terms it is the abnormal growth of cells. Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic change (mutation) that causes them to turn into abnormal cells. Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic change (mutation) that causes them to turn into abnormal cells. Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic change (mutation) that causes them to turn into abnormal cells.
Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the uterus (womb). This is sometimes called the uterine cervix. The fetus grows in the body of the uterus (the upper part). The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). The cervix has two different parts and is covered with two different types of cells. The part of the cervix closest to the body of the uterus is called the endocervix and is covered with glandular cells. The part next to the vagina is the exocervix (or ectocervix) and is covered in squamous cells. These two cell types meet at a place called the transformation zone. The exact location of the transformation zone changes as you get older and if you give birth.
It isn’t clear what causes cervical cancer, but it’s certain that HPV plays a role. HPV is very common, and most women with the virus never develop cervical cancer. This means other factors — such as your environment or your lifestyle choices — also determine whether you’ll develop cervical cancer.
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
Prevention of Cervical cancer:
- Delaying age of first sexual intercourse
- One faithful sexual partner
- Correct and consistent use of condoms
- Cervical cancer screening using visual inspection with acetic acid and cervicography (VIAC) or Pap Smear
VIAC is a ‘’ see and treat” method. It’s simple, painless, result is available immediately and treatment can be offered at same visit. VIAC can be done anytime even during menstruation or after miscarriage but if pregnant it should be postponed until 6 weeks after delivery. One should be screened every 2 years if HIV negative and every year if HIV positive.