Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is observed from January 18 to 24 and is an opportunity to learn about cancer of the cervix.
Why is this important?
According to healthcare experts, every female who is over the age of 21 or sexually active should learn how to prevent cervical cancer and why it is important to have yearly check-ups, said Myrna Sachs, head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions.
The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus). Cervical cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women in South Africa (for the rest of the world, it is breast cancer), yet it is largely a preventable cancer.
Two main things can go wrong with the cervix, according to medical experts.
- HPV infection
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that eight in ten people will get. It usually goes away without causing any problems. HPV is usually passed on through sexual contact, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. Because HPV lives on our skin, it’s easy to get and difficult to completely protect against. The infection often goes unnoticed since it has no symptoms.
- Cervical cancer
Having HPV doesn’t mean you will get cervical cancer, but it does increase the chances.
Cervical cancer happens when cells change in the cervix, which connects the uterus and vagina. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with HPV, which is preventable with a vaccine.
Cervical cancer grows slowly, so there’s usually time to find and treat it before it causes serious problems. It kills fewer and fewer women each year, thanks to improved screening through Pap tests.
Preventing cervical cancer
The key to preventing invasive cervical cancer is to detect cell changes early, before they become cancerous. Regular pelvic exams and Pap tests are the best way to do this. Experts recommend the following: