18 July 2013

Uganda: Kampala Screens for Cervical Cancer

Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Health Worker reaching out to female at the community level (file photo).

The Hub, at Oasis Mall, Mild May Uganda and Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), have partnered to conduct a five-day health sensitisation campaign, with emphasis on cervical cancer screening.

The screening exercise started on July 17, with the key message that cancer is treatable. it urges women to seek early diagnosis and treatment

"Fear is a big hindrance to cervical cancer screening," says Linda Birungi, a social worker from RHU. "They think that it is incurable, so they would rather not find out if they have it."

Women, she says, are better off knowing their cervical cancer status early. Anyone found with pre-cancer cells gets treated. Dr William Musoke, from Mild May Uganda, says pre-cancer cells are treated using cryotherapy. This involves use of cold gas to freeze the cancerous cells before they turn cancerous.

If suspicious cervical cancer cells are seen during screening, then one is referred for further tests. Despite common fears, Musoke says the process is pain-free.

"Screening in Uganda is done by pap smear or visual inspection, using acetic acid and the procedure doesn't take longer than three minutes," Musoke says.

Painless procedure:

It involves the removal of a few cells from the cervix which are viewed under a microscope for possible cancer cells. Visual inspection using acetic acid on the other hand involves "painting the cervix with acetic acid for three minutes and then looking for changes," according to Musoke.

Infected cells will appear white after the application of vinegar while normal cells will appear pink.


Cervical cancer is one of the commonest cancers in Uganda, and increasing screening is key to preventing related deaths, experts say. Musoke advises annual screening for cervical cancer for HIV positive individuals while HIV-negative individuals ought to test every three years.

Risk factors

HIV-positive individuals are more at risk because of a weakened immune system that cannot stop infections. This implies that individuals taking immunosuppressant (say those with allergies, who have had transplants) are also at risk.

Other factors that put one at risk of cervical cancer include early sexual intercourse, having multiple sexual partners, cigarette smoking (cigarettes have a chemical that damage the cervix, making it susceptible to infection), giving birth to too many children (this traumatises, puts wear and tear, on the cervix making it easy to get it infected) and family history.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which can stimulate pre-cancer changes, is nearly always sexually transmitted. Cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination, usually of girls aged between nine and 13.

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