January is cervical cancer awareness month and here are a few things about HPV and cervical cancer you should know!
Firstly, the cervix is part of the female reproductive system, the narrow part of the lower uterus often referred to as the ‘neck’ of the womb. It produces cervical mucus during the most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle, which helps sperm travel from the vagina into the uterus. It also opens during labour to allow the baby pass through the birth canal, as well as protects the uterus from bacteria and other foreign objects.
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is common and most sexually active individuals have HPV at some point. There are approximately 79 million people in the US with HPV and a 15% increase among Nigeria’s population. Long lasting infection with certain types of HPV is the cause of cervical cancer.
There are different types of HPV, just because a woman has HPV does not necessarily mean she will get cervical cancer. There are some types called “Low-risk”, which can cause genital warts which rarely develops into cancer. There are also others referred to as “High-risk” which cause cervical cell changes, and when not detected early can increase a woman’s risk for cervical cancer.
Symptoms of cervical cancer include irregular vaginal bleeding, bleeding in between periods or after sexual intercourse, pain during sex, postmenopausal bleeding and foul-smelling or unusual vaginal discharge. Some women may also experience low back pain or lower abdominal pain.
HPV vaccine can help prevent infection from both High-risk HPV types that lead to cervical cancer, and the low- risk HPV types that cause genital warts. The CDC recommends that all women get vaccinated and the ideal age to receive the vaccine is at 12 years. However, it is thought to be beneficial up to the age of 40.
There is no treatment for the virus itself, but health providers have plenty of options to treat diseases caused by the virus.
Through early detection, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treated forms of cancer. Screening through pap smears can find cell changes in the cervix and is recommended for all women especially those above 30 years. People are advised to consult their gynecologist to get screened once they become sexually active.
It can be upsetting and scary when HPV is first diagnosed, but one shouldn’t panic. It doesn’t mean you’re destined for cervical cancer especially if caught early. To keep your cervix healthy and whole, get vaccinated, practice safe sex, and get screened by your doctor.
As we mark this year’s cervical cancer awareness month, we implore the Nigerian government to subsidize the cost of the vaccine in order to mitigate the spread of the virus and make available more screening centers for women.
Learn more, get involved, make a difference by creating more awareness about cervical cancer, tell a friend to tell a friend and you might just save a life!