No one looks forward to getting a pap smear. Many of us try to avoid THAT doctor’s appointment for as long as possible! Sometimes we even skip a few years between visits because “we’ll know if something is wrong”. Unfortunately, that’s not precisely true since cervical cancer can be slow-growing and may not show immediate symptoms.
According to the HPV centre, cervical cancer is the 2nd biggest cancer affecting women in South Africa with about 12 984 new cases diagnosed in SA every year! Fortunately, it’s also one of the most preventable cancers that can be successfully treated with early detection.
Cause and symptoms
One of the most common STI’s in the world, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is the primary cause of cervical cancer. The virus can be transmitted by skin contact, including sexual intercourse and body fluids. The first sign of cervical cancer is a pre-cancerous condition called dysplasia. This can be detected with a routine pap smear and is 100% treatable. That is why it is so important for women to get regular pap smears done.
You can be at a higher risk for cervical cancer or contracting HPV if:
- You are sexually active from a young age
- If you have multiple partners
- Have a weakened immune system
- Certain genetic factors
As mentioned above, symptoms can only appear once the cancer reaches an advanced stage. They include the following:
- Irregular and abnormal vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- An odorous vaginal discharge
- Vaginal discomfort
- Pain in your back, leg or pelvis
- Weight loss, loss of appetite and fatigue
What you can do to prevent cervical cancer
Every year, South Africa has more than 5,595 cervical cancer deaths that could have been prevented. It is vital for sexually active women to get a pap smear done at their local family planning clinic, doctor or gynaecologist every 6 months to a year. The procedure is painless and by collecting a few cells from the cervix, doctors can detect the first signs of cervical cancer or HPV.
Other ways of prevention:
- Practice safe sex
- Begin cervical cancer screening once you become sexually active
- The primary form of prevention is the HPV vaccine. Read more about it here.
When it comes to cervical cancer, the more you know, the better your chances are to prevent and treat it.