The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Cervical Cancer Common but Preventable

Cervical cancer is now one of the most common cancers in women overall, exacerbated by the lack of reproductive health information for women and delayed access to treatment in rural areas.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, "About 86 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in less developed countries. The highest incidence of cervical cancer is in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa."

The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.

Cancer is a disease in which the cells in the body develop out of control. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. Cancer of the cervix is often deadly as it metastasizes or spreads to other parts of the body. Cervical cancers don't always spread, but those that do most often spread to the lungs, the liver, the bladder, the vagina, and the rectum.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. Unfortunately, at least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives. However, not all women will get cervical cancer but all women are at elevated risk. The majority of cases occur in midlife rather than old age and it is one of the most common cancers in women under 35. Preventative cervical screening programmes can cut cervical cancer death rates and provide a means of early detection. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and is often associated with long survival and good quality of life outcomes.

Types of cervical cancer:

There are two main types of cervical cancers: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. About 80 to 90 per cent of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cell carcinomas starts in the surface of the cells that line the cervix that can rapidly multiply into active cancer. Cervical adenocarcinomas seem to have become more common in the past 20 to 30 years but still only make up 5 to 10 per cent of cervical cancers. This form is more difficult to detect as it often starts higher up in the cervical canal and is commonly missed by a screening test. Although most cervical cancers are either squamous cell carcinomas or adenocarcinomas, other types of cancer also can develop in the cervix as well. These types include melanoma, sarcoma, and lymphoma but they are more likely to occur in other parts of the body.

Symptoms of cervical cancer:

Cervical cancer is often silent. In the early stages there are usually no symptoms and that's the purpose of screenings to pick up abnormal cells before it's too late. Once cancer is established, the most common symptom is bleeding between periods or after sex. Menstrual bleeding may also be heavier or last longer than normal.

Other common symptoms include pain in the pelvic area before, during or after intercourse as well as pain or difficult urination. Another red flag is any sort of unusual or unpleasant smelling discharge from the vagina. However, these symptoms may indicate other problems than cervical cancer as well.

More than 95 percent of cervical cancer cases can be prevented - get checked now.

Ed.'s Note: Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. 

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