This post is going to address one of the leading forms of cancers among women in Nigeria. Cervical cancer. This cancer affects the cervix – which is the lower part of the womb. It is the second most common type of cancer among women, after breast cancer and it is seriously killing women. Every day, 26 women in Nigeria die from cervical cancer and close to 70% of women who have cervical cancer in Nigeria will die, for various reasons.One of them is the lack of health infrastructure to treat this disease. So many Nigerian women have cervical cancer, yet there are not enough radiation equipment to treat it. This means that because of the “long queue”, if a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer in this country, she will likely die before getting the required treatment. Other reasons include the cost of treatment and lack of awareness about the disease.
What makes this situation really tragic is that although cervical cancer is so deadly, it is completely preventable. It is not like ovarian cancer where an exact cause is not yet known. It is not like breast cancer where even after adopting healthy lifestyle changes, there is still that chance that you might develop it. No. It can be completely, 100% prevented.
Cervical cancer is caused by a virus called Human Papilloma virus (HPV). This virus is transmitted sexually. HPV is so infectious that actual sexual intercourse does not have to occur for it to be transmitted. It can be transmitted from one infected genital to another, directly or indirectly. HPV is also the most common sexually transmitted virus in the world, because nearly all sexually active people have been infected with HPV.
HPV has several strains. Some strains cause genital warts, but these strains do not cause cervical cancer. Other strains cause infections that get cleared up by the body without any form of treatment. That means many people do not even know when they are infected. However, there are some HPV strains that are particularly problematic because they persist and do not get cleared up by the body. These strains can cause infection of the cells in the cervix. This infection can lead to the development of pre-cancer. After about 7 to 20 years, pre-cancer progresses to cancer. For those who smoke or have HIV, it might take a shorter time for pre-cancer to progress to cancer.
In other words, some strains of HPV cause pre-cancer which leads to cervical cancer.
That’s why cervical cancer screening is so important and beneficial. Since it takes so long for the cancer to actually occur, with early screening, these pre-cancer cells can be detected and treated. Easily. But once it has already progressed to cancer, it becomes extremely difficult to treat.
The recommended age to start going for screening in Nigeria is 30 years. But it is up to you to do the math. Start going for cervical cancer screening about 10 years after your first sexual contact, and keep going every 3 – 5 years. If pre-cancer is detected, it can be treated before it becomes cervical cancer.
An important form of prevention is the HPV vaccination. If you have never been sexually active, you can get immunized. This protects you from the HPV strains that cause cervical cancer and that means you are completely protected. Hence, parents can get their children immunized.
For those who are sexually active, use a condom, be faithful, do not have multiple sexual partners etc. you know the drill. But, just so you know, condoms are not fully effective, because there can still be skin to skin contact when using a condom.
Now you know the three ways to prevent this deadly disease; HPV vaccination for those who have not had sex, safe sex and regular cervical cancer screening. Tell your parents, your sisters, your aunties and your friends. You just may save a life. Because the truth is, although it’s horrible to get cancer, it’s even worse to get it in this country.
Therefore in conclusion, I beg, let’s fight cervical cancer.