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What You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer

October 29, 2019 • Natacha Mugeni

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman’s cervix and is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45. It  is the fourth most frequent cancer in women with an estimated 570,000 new cases in 2018 representing 6.6% of all female cancers. Approximately 90% of deaths from cervical cancer occurred in low- and middle-income countries. 

The high mortality rate from cervical cancer globally could be reduced through a comprehensive approach that includes prevention, early diagnosis, effective screening and treatment programmes. There are currently vaccines that protect against common cancer-causing types of human papilloma virus and can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Symptoms

The most common finding in patients with cervical cancer is an abnormal Papanicolaou (Pap) test result. Physical symptoms of cervical cancer may include the following:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Vaginal discomfort
  • Malodorous discharge
  • Dysuria

Prevention & Control

The prevention and control of cervical cancer include multidisciplinary interventions across the life course. The following are needed to improve cervical cancer control:

  • Vaccination
    • The HPV vaccine offers protection against cervical cancer when it is given before a female becomes sexually active The vaccine is now given in three doses to people, both male and female, between the ages of 15 to 45 years.
  • Screening 
    • Sexually active females need to get their pap smear done every year to find and prevent cervical cancer at the earliest stages. If you are already, infected the vaccine will not protect you from cervical cancer but it will protect you from getting other types of HPV that cause genital warts.
  • Community education
  • Social mobilization

Diagnosis & Treatment

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection must be present for cervical cancer to occur. Complete evaluation starts with Papanicolaou (Pap) testing. Screening aims to detect precancerous changes, which, if not treated, may lead to cancer. Women who are found to have abnormalities on screening need follow-up, diagnosis and treatment, in order to prevent the development of cancer or to treat cancer at an early stage.

The following are the modalities to screen for cervical cancer from the World Health Organisation (WHO):

  • Screening should be performed at least once for every woman in the target age group (30-49 years) when it is most beneficial;
  • HPV testing, cytology and visual inspection with acetic acid (WHO) are all recommended screening tests;
  • Cryotherapy or loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) can provide effective and appropriate treatment for the majority of women who screen positive for cervical pre-cancer;
  • “Screen-and-treat” and “screen, diagnose and treat” are both valuable approaches.

Almost all cervical cancer deaths can be avoided if known effective interventions are available to all women and implemented, including immunizing adolescent girls against human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical screening and treatment of precancerous lesions. 

You deserve to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Visit your gynaecologist today.

Available Cancer Services in Rwanda Health System

  • Basic investigation (hematology, biochemistry, bacteriology, biopsy procedures and processing for referral)can be done at District hospitals, Provincial & referral hospitals, University Teaching hospitals/National referral hospitals.
  • Advanced investigation (e.g., biopsy, x-rays, ultrasound) can be done at District hospitals, Provincial & referral hospitals, University Teaching hospitals/National referral hospitals.
  • Interventions(e.g.: cryotherapy and colposcopy) can be done at Provincial hospitals, University Teaching hospitals/National referral hospitals.
  • Advanced therapy: Follow up for already initiated drugs by internists (e.g.: chemotherapy and surgery).  
  • Radiotherapy only available at University Teaching hospitals/National referral hospitals.

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