Silent but deadly. These are words often used to describe Cervical Cancer; a slow-growing disease that rarely causes symptoms in its early stages. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year more than 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and for some it will be too late to receive effective treatment. In Trinidad and Tobago, cervical cancer is unfortunately the second leading cause of death among women.

Is this preventable?

January marks the time to introspect and make sound resolutions, a new year, a healthier you. January is also designated as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, a pertinent time to discuss strategies to prevent cancer, especially this one. CDC shares “Up to 93% of cervical cancers are preventable.”

World Health Organization pledges

“Eliminating any cancer would have once seemed an impossible dream, but we now have the cost-effective, evidence-based tools to make that dream a reality,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “With a comprehensive approach to prevent, screen and treat, cervical cancer can be eliminated as a public health problem within a generation,” pledged the World Health Organization.

In the past 30 years, WHO states, “The number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly. This decline largely is the result of many women being screened regularly by Pap Smears, which can find cervical precancer before it turns into cancer and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination.”

Let’s Discuss Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the cervix develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do.

Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. The mutations tell the cells to grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumour). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from a tumour to spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the body.

Risk factors for cervical cancer

– 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, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS, increases your risk of HPV.

A weakened 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: Reducing your Risk

– Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine.

– Have routine Pap tests.

– Practice safe sex.

– Don’t smoke.

“The huge burden of mortality related to cervical cancer is a consequence of decades of neglect by the global health community. However, the script can be rewritten,” says WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela. “The fight against cervical cancer is also a fight for women’s rights: the unnecessary suffering caused by this preventable disease reflects the injustices that uniquely affect women’s health around the world,” says Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela. “Together, we can make history to ensure a cervical cancer-free future.”

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