Every October, Uganda joins the world to raise awareness about cancer such as breast and cervical cancer. Let’s talk about cervical cancer.
Many diseases that humans suffer later in life do not start suddenly; they are what you would call an accumulation of our life styles over time. LinkmeUG interviewed Dr. Stella Nabawanga of International Medical Link [IML] to find out if and why young people should be concerned about cervical cancer.
Qn. What is cervical cancer?
Dr. Stella: Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells and cervical cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the cervix, a part of the uterus. This means it’s a disease only women suffer because men don’t have a cervix.
Qn. How serious is cervical cancer in Uganda?
Dr. Stella: In Uganda, this cancer kills more women than any other disease. The number stands at 2275 women a year in Uganda. And these women didn’t catch the disease yesterday. It is a problem that may even go back to their teen years. Research shows that about 7 million women of the 37 million Ugandans are at risk of this cancer.
Qn. Should a youth in her 20s really be concerned about cervical cancer?
Dr. Stella: Absolutely, just because this cancer is killing women mostly in their 50s does not mean they got it at 45. The virus that causes cervical cancer can stay in the body for years without signs and may progress to the dangerous stages without the victim knowing it. So we get the virus early in life and live with it without knowing only to turn up at the hospital years later when we are in the 3rd or 4th stage.
Qn. Tell us more about this virus.
Dr. Stella: The virus that causes cervical cancer is the HPV 16/18 that is Human Papilloma Virus and is sexually transmitted.
Qn. Sexually transmitted, so it affects men as well, right?
Dr. Stella: Not really; the HPV only affects the cervix and men don’t have one. But some medical investigations have shown that long term exposure to this virus can be a risk factor for catching penile cancer in men.
But we also have risk factors, by this I mean the life style that can cause cervical cancer beside the HPV. Smoking, multiple sexual partners, engaging in early sex, and having too many children can cause it. HIV patients also seem to catch cervical cancer easily. Research has also shown that some oral contraceptives taken over a long time can cause cervical cancer. Not that these carry HPV but they influence the cells in the cervix to grow abnormally.
Qn. Doctor, about early sex, how early is early and how does that cause cervical cancer?
Dr. Stella: Before 18, your sexual organs are not yet fully developed for sex and early exposure to sex has an effect on your cells.
Qn. Is cervical cancer hereditary or contagious?
Dr. Stella: No, cervical like other cancers cannot be passed on to another person through touch or sharing panties [but you shouldn’t share panties] and it’s not the type that runs in the family. An individual gets it on their own through sex.
Qn. So how does one know a man is carrying this virus, does it itch, cause a rush or blisters?
Dr. Stella: Unfortunately not, you can’t look at the genitals and see the HPV on it and it does not itch or cause smell. The virus moves in body fluids and will be found in a man’s semen. Uncircumcised men are also at a higher risk of passing on this virus from lady to lady but this does not mean than women with circumcised men are totally safe. The virus moves in body fluids.
Qn. So doctor, if HPV is in the fluids, does this mean even kissing spreads it?
Dr. Stella: If this kissing involves the genitals, then the virus will be passed from genitals to mouth.
Qn. What about condoms, do they help?
Dr Stella: Yes they do if correctly and constantly used.
Qn. How is cervical cancer detected in women?
Dr. Stella: Fortunately for women, the cause of cervical cancer is known and treatment and a vaccine are very effective if received in time. This test is called a Pap smear test done on the cervix. Any youth who has had sex should test for cervical cancer at most 3 years from the first time; the test costs 50,000/= at IML. And depending on the results, a doctor will recommend periodic tests or treatment. We don’t as yet have tests for men.
Qn. Tell us about the vaccine.
Dr: Stella: luckily for women, a vaccine against cervical cancer exists and can be got at 100,000/= at selected private clinics. It’s given in 2 doses on the right upper arm. Because it’s quite expensive, the government is immunizing girls below 15. You should also remember that the drug is most effective when girls who are not yet sexually active. This means that even if you are 30 and have not engaged in sex, the vaccine will work for you. But this is not an excuse to have unsafe sex or multiple partners.
Qn. What are the signs of cervical cancer in women?
Dr: Stella: Let’s not talk about signs because by the time they come, the cancer has already advanced into stages hard to treat. And this may happen more than 15 years later. Cancer advances from stage 1 to 4 and you won’t see signs like bleeding till the 3th stage. That is why we want all women to test and get help in time.
Qn. By help do you mean treatment?
Dr. Stella: Yes. We have a precancerous stage which means that cells are beginning to change. This stage can be treated and will recover much easier. Stage 1 and 2 can also be treated and one recovers. The challenge is stage 3 and 4, and young people with this information should never get past the precancerous stage; cervical cancer is among the easiest cancers to cure.
Dr. Stella Nabawanga works with International medical Link on Buganda Rd.
Contact her for cervical cancer screening or vaccination.
Dr. Amon Rukundo : 0703010264
For any comments and questions please participate below and the doctor will get back to you. LinkmeUG gets you in-touch with experts for you to take informed decisions. Now you know how to prevent cervical cancer.
Stay Young and Healthy.
Connect for better…