The month of September is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical Cancer is a preventable condition that can be diagnosed and treated successfully. Dr Nokukhanya Khanyile, Medical Doctor and Kotex® health expert, explains what cervical cancer is and gives a guideline on how to keep your cervix cancer free.

“According to CANSA (Cancer Association of South Africa), cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in South African women, with 1 in 42 women having the risk of getting cancer in their lifetime,” explains Dr Khanyile.

What causes cervical cancer?

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a very common cause of cervical cancer but there may be other conditions that can put you at risk of getting HPV which include:

Having multiple sexual partnersSmokingOral contraceptive use over a long period of time

What are the symptoms?

· Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discomfort especially just after having sex

· Foul smelling vaginal discharge

· Pain or burning when urinating

· An abnormal pap smear result is sometimes the first sign

If the condition is advanced, you may start to have constipation, blood in the urine, abdominal swelling or leg pain and swelling. It is important to speak to your doctor about the management of any abnormal results. The earlier lesions are detected, the less invasive the management becomes. The options available are too deep for the scope of this article but may include things like:

Surgical removal of the abnormal tissue on the cervix by either cutting it out, using laser therapy or cryotherapy which may be a day procedure and with or without anesthesiaHysterectomy or removal of the wombRadiation and/or chemotherapy

What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

The Papanicolau Test or Pap Smear is a procedure that Health Care Professionals (HCP) do to look for cells that have cancer or look like they may become cancerous. This involves gently collecting some cells from inside the cervix and sending them off to the lab. The procedure is not painful but there may be some mild discomfort. The following steps are involved:

The HCP will get permission from you to do the procedure and place you in a room with appropriate privacyThe speculum is a metal device that the doctor may insert into the vagina to view the cervix. It may feel cold initially and then there may be some discomfort as the doctor widens the blades a little, but it shouldn’t be painfulIn order to get the sample, the doctor has to insert a small brush or wooden spatula into the mouth of the cervix and scrape some cells off. Again, it can feel uncomfortable but shouldn’t be painful

After the procedure, you may have some spotting but not enough that resembles a period, so if you notice clots or have lower abdominal pain, it’s important to go back to your doctor to make sure that there isn’t any problem. The test results will take anything between 2-6 weeks to come back and depending on your doctor, you may get a phone call with the results or the doctor may ask you to come in.

“It is important to go for pap smears often to check for any signs of precancerous or cancerous cells. If caught early, a doctor can do a small procedure that involves removing the affected cells before they spread,” concludes Dr Khanyile.

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