Fri | Aug 23, 2019

Tackling cervical cancer

Published:Monday | January 28, 2019 | 12:23 AM

Cervical cancer is an abnormal cell growth at the lower part of the uterus. This affliction is preventable; however, a lack of knowledge causes it to continue to take the lives of many women in Jamaica.

As gynaecologist Dr Kirian Bridgewater explains, the human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexual tranismitted disease, is the only known cause of cervical cancer.

“Any woman who is sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV and as a result cervical cancer. Nonetheless, most women will clear the virus over time with no issues,” she said.

Still some women are more vulnerable to the virus than others. Smoking, being HIV-positive or autoimmune conditions, having multiple partners and engaging in sexual activities at an early age are factors that predispose females to the virus. And if it is not detected or left untreated, the condition will eventually develop into cervical cancer.

TACKLING THE DISEASE

There are various indicators of the cervical cancer. Each vary according to the stage of the malady. For instance, early symptoms include abnormal vaginal discharges and bleeding. The loss of blood usually occurs after sex or outside of the expected menses. Warning signs that normally appear at the a more advanced point are pelvic and back pain, difficulty holding or passing urine, and swollen legs.

“Being proactive is one of the best ways to deal with cervical cancer. So, start doing your cervical cancer screening, that is Pap smears and HPV testing. You need to be in tune with your body also,” the doctor explained.

Regular screening helps to prevent this cancer. Pre-cancerous changes in your cervix, the neck of the vagina can also be remedied before they become cancer. Once it has been identified at the initial stage of development, “it has a very good cure rate”, even if it continues to develop.

COMMON MYTHS

Dr Bridgewater aims to dispel certain misconceptions of the disease, in an attempt to save more lives. Here is the truth.

Myth: If you are no longer sexually active you are not at risk for HPV infections and cervical cancer.

Truth: HPV can stay in the cells of your cervix for many years. So, even if you are no longer sexually active, you should still continue to do your Pap smears to ensure early detection of any issues.

Myth: Getting the HPV vaccine means you don’t have to do your pap smears anymore.

Truth: While the HPV vaccine significantly decreases the chance of you developing cervical cancer, it is not 100 per cent. There are over 100 types of the virus and the vaccine only covers some, so it is important that vaccinated women continue their screening programme.

Myth: The doctor pinches off a part of your cervix to do a Pap smear/Pap smears are painful.

Truth: Pap smear is a painless test that simply requires the doctor to brush against your cervix. By doing so, they are able to retrieve some of the cervical cells and send them for testing.

Dr Kirian Bridgewater operates from The Physician’s Offices at the Andrews Memorial Hospital. She can be contacted at 876-428-5504.