Enugu Governor experts Cervical Cancer AIDS cervix nimr Scientists record
Cervical Cancer is the second leading cause of death amongst women in Nigeria.

What You Need To Know About Cervical Cancer By Aishat M. Abisola 

Cervical Cancer has been dominating the headlines in recent weeks for reasons that are obvious.

The HPV vaccine that is meant to prevent it is here and the controversy surrounding it is putting the debilitating illness on the front burner.

What is Cervical Cancer?

  • Cervical Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that starts in the cervix which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
  • Cervical cancer is caused by various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is a common infection passed through sexual contact.
  • The body’s immune system usually prevents the virus from causing any harm when exposed to it but the virus can survive for years in a small percentage of people which will then contribute towards the progress of turning cervical cells into cancer cells.
  • Women are most at risk of cervical cancer as HPV causes cancers in the cervix, vagina and vulva.
  • Most types of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
  • The risk of developing cervical cancer is low if you undergo routine screening tests and take the HPV vaccine.

When cervical cancer is diagnosed, it’s usually treated with surgery but other treatments may include medicines to kill the cancer cells, chemotherapy, targeted therapy medicines or radiation therapy.

You might not show any symptoms at first but some of the symptoms will include vaginal bleeding after intercourse, menstrual bleeding that is heavier and lasts longer than usual, watery or bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odour, pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.

Risk factors for cervical cancer

  • Smoking will increase the risk of cervical cancer as infections tend to last longer in smokers and are less likely to go away.
  • If you have many sexual partners and they also have a lot of sexual partners, you have a greater chance of getting HPV.
  • Early sexual activity increases the risk of getting HPV.
  • Sexually transmitted infections increase the risk of HPV leading to cervical cancer.
  • STIs that also increase the risk of HPV are herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS.
  • You have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer if your immune system is weakened by another health condition and you have HPV.

How to Reduce your risk of cervical cancer

  • You can reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers by asking a doctor about the HPV vaccine and receiving the vaccine.
  • Undergo routine Pap smears which can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix. It is recommended that you begin routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeat them every few years.
  • Practice safe sex as it will lower your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection if you use condoms and limit your number of sexual partners.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name given to a very common group of viruses. They do not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer.

  • HPV affects the skin and there are over 100 different types.
  • HPV does not usually cause any symptoms but it can sometimes cause growths/lumps to form around the vagina, penis or anus (genital warts).
  • There are many ways to get HPV such as skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, and sharing of sex toys.
  • Sexual contact with many is not the main way to get HPV as you can get it the first time you have sex.
  • It depends on the person but some types of HPV can cause genital warts or abnormal changes in the cells that sometimes turn into cancer.

The types of HPV that cause cancer are referred to as high-risk and include cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, vulval cancer, vaginal cancer, and some forms of head and neck cancer.

You can be infected with HPV without being sexually active or having a new partner for many years.

How to get tested for HPV

When you attend a cervical screening, you also get tested for HPV.

During the screening, a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and tested for HPV.
Condoms can help protect you against HPV, but you are not fully protected as they do not cover all the skin around your genitals.

The HPV vaccine protects you against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer but it does not protect against all types of HPV.

Due to this, there is no treatment for HPV as most infections do not cause any problems and are cleared by your body within two years.

Treatment is only necessary if there are problems like genital warts or changes to cells in the cervix.

Possible Side Effects

Just like any medication, vaccines can also have side effects.

It ranges from person to person but many people who get the vaccine experience no side effects while others report having very mild side effects like a sore arm from the shot.

Some of the more common side effects of the HPV vaccine are mild pain or swelling in the arm where the shot was given, fever, dizziness or fainting (fainting after any vaccine, including the HPV vaccine, is very common among adolescents), headache or feeling tired, nausea, muscle or joint pain.

The side effects of the HPV vaccine do not last longer than a day or two and have been cited by doctors and vaccine researchers to be very safe for the human body.