Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide and the most common female cancer in women aged 15 to 44 years in Uganda, contributing to over 13.1 million women being at risk of developing the cancer. Uganda HPV Information Centre is estimates that every year, 6,959 women are diagnosed with cancer, and 4607 succumb to the deadly disease. January is Cervical cancer awareness month, and women must equip themselves with the essential knowledge to safeguard their health.
Cervical cancer is primarily caused by persistent human papillomavirus infections (HPV) passed on from one person to another during sexual intercourse. While this is the primary mode of transmission, genital-to-oral interactions and deep (French) kissing can also spread the virus. According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, Prevalence of Human Papillomavirus subtypes 16 and 18 among Yemeni patients with Cervical Cancer, there are over 200 types of HPV, but HPV types (16 and 18) are known to be responsible for 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous lesion.
What you need to know is that someone can be infected with HPV but is not aware because the virus does not show signs and symptoms in its early stages. Cervical cancer symptoms may only appear when the cancer has reached its advanced stage, and they may include the following; pain and or bleeding during and after sexual intercourse, intermenstrual bleeding, heavy menstrual bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge, and lower abdominal pain.
HPV infections are, however, preventable and treatable. Every woman needs to be aware of routine screenings such as Pap smears and HPV tests, which are vital in early detection. Understanding the risk factors such as sexual behaviours, STD, and HIV/TB co-infection can also aid in proactive measures of prevention. HPV vaccination is a crucial preventive strategy, especially for young girls between 10-14 years who are not yet sexually exposed.
However, in the unfortunate event of cervical cancer diagnosis, early intervention is critical, and timely medical attention increases the chances of successful treatment and prevents the disease from advancing to precancerous and cancerous stages.
Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative (ROM) is dedicated to fostering an environment of open dialogue surrounding sexual health and known HIV status and promoting regular checkups to empower women to prioritize their health, with an emphasis on prevention and early detection as integral components of cervical cancer awareness. ROM, therefore, provides free cervical cancer screening services to vulnerable communities and ensures accessibility of these services to the public.
It is, thus, every woman’s responsibility to screen for cervical cancer as early as possible.
Written by: Nakyomu Damalie, B.Sc. in Midwifery
Head PMTCT/Cervical cancer screening and treatment at Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative.