By Sarah K. Brown
Cervical cancer is the second most deadly cancer for women worldwide and the foremost cause of cancer mortality among women in developing countries. Though most commonly affecting middle-aged women, cervical cancer has been known to infect women as early as in their 20s. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women in sub-Saharan Africa, and The Gambia is no exception. Every day, another woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital alone, not to mention those diagnosed elsewhere throughout the country or those who are never formally diagnosed.
Fortunately, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Cervical cancer has a pre-cancerous stage which can be easily detected by a test called a Pap smear. Offered at nearly every health clinic in the Kombo area, the Pap smear is an inexpensive and painless test that takes approximately five minutes to carry out. A swab of the opening of the womb is taken by a nurse or doctor and then reviewed at a laboratory in order to detect any abnormalities. If the smear is indeed abnormal, a routine out-patient procedure is carried out that could ultimately save the life of the patient. In countries where routine Pap smears have been promoted and implemented, the mortality rate associated with cervical cancer has decreased by up to 80%.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of 99% of cervical cancer cases. This sexually-transmitted virus infects 70-80% of sexually active adults worldwide. Because the virus shows no symptoms, however, the large majority of infected individuals never know that they have the virus. Fortunately, the vast majority of women who are infected with HPV never develop cervical cancer. However, there are several co-factors that predispose women to developing the deadly disease. Sexual history has a great deal to do with the likelihood of developing cervical cancer. It has been documented that women who marry at an early age, women who have had multiple sexual partners throughout their life, women in polygamous marriages, and women who have a history of sexually-transmitted infections are more prone to develop cervical cancer. Additionally, women who have conceived a lot of children are at an increased risk: A woman who has four or more children is 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and a woman with seven or more children is 3.8 times more likely. Aspects of lifestyle, such as smoking, long-term contraceptive use, and poor nutrition, have also been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, early stages of cervical cancer show no symptoms. By the time symptoms become apparent, it is usually too late for treatment to effectively cure a woman. Symptoms of advanced cancer of the cervix include abnormal menstruation or discharge, lower abdominal pain, and inability to urinate. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention promptly. However, it is important to remember that early stages of the disease are asymptomatic. This is primarily why Pap smears and early detection are so incredibly vital.
In the Kombo area, Pap smears are available at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital and Polyclinic in Banjul, BAFROW clinic in Serrekunda, Gambia Family Planning Association in Kanifing, and Lamtoro Clinic in Kololi for less than 100 Dalasis. Early detection of cervical cancer could save your life of or the life of someone you love. Help rid The Gambia of cervical cancer for good—get a Pap smear today!
Last Updated (Tuesday, 29 March 2011 17:16)