Bolgatanga — Globally, cervical cancer is said to be the third most common type of cancer in women. It is much less common in the United States because of the routine use of Pap smears, but in developing countries like Ghana, cervical cancer is the commonest cancer among most women.
A woman's sexual habits and patterns can increase her risk of cervical cancer. Risky sexual practices include having sex at an early age, having multiple sexual partners, and having multiple partners or partners who participate in high-risk sexual activities.
In order to prevent the disease from infecting women, the Medical Director and Gynaecologist/Obstetrician at the Regional Hospital, Bolgatanga, Dr. Peter Baffoe, has advised women and young ladies to practice safe sex.
Although the disease is preventable, the unfortunate thing is that most the patients report to the hospital very late, thereby making it difficult for medical specialists to carry out any meaningful intervention. Almost all cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is transmitted sexually.
Speaking to The Chronicle on the sidelines on the 2012 Upper East Regional Forum organised by the Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health, in Bolgatanga, Dr. Baffoe revealed that before a woman develops cervical cancer, she would have developed certain conditions referred to as pre-cancerous lesions on her cervix. These lesions then show that the woman could acquire the disease.
He gave hope that such conditions could be managed at an early stage to prevent it from developing into cervical cancer.
According to him, cervical screening is very important, and therefore, advised women who are sexually active to see a specialist to examine their cervix at least once every three years. This, he said, if the women do, the likelihood of them developing cervical cancer was very negligible, because the specialist would have detected a pre-cancerous lesion and treated it to prevent cervical cancer from developing.
Dr. Baffoe said figures from the Regional Hospital, Bolgatanga, indicate that cervical cancer was the commonest among female patients. According to him, a lot of education had been done on breast cancer, and therefore, it was not uncommon to find a woman going to a doctor to say that she feels something in her breast that makes her uncomfortable, and would want to be examined for breast cancer, which is quickly examined and handled.
However, that does not happen with cervical cancer, partly because the cervix is not easily accessible by the woman her herself. He said, if women are educated enough on how to prevent cervical cancer, they would be going for cervical screening for early detection and treatment.
He also said: "Secondly, most of the cases we get are so advanced, they are in a stage where you are not able to cure, and we don't have enough capacity to treat very advanced conditions. I am talking of radiotherapies. We don't have them here, and you have to refer these patients to Kumasi or Accra. And so if we will be able to get the conditions earlier enough, we can prevent them, and the only way we can do that is by doing cervical screening."
Dr. Baffoe said although there was a vaccine to the prevent the disease, that was not being done here in Ghana, because the vaccine is not part of the vaccination programmes in the country, hinting that there were some studies going on, on the drug which could make the vaccines part of the health care system in Ghana.