What you need to know about Cervical Cancer

September is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in South Africa and Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month globally. In South Africa, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among people with vaginas, and they have a 1 in 40 lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer according to Cansa.org.za

Pap smears are done by a doctor to detect pre-cancerous cells on the cervix by doing a swab of the cervix. Although it is a very intimate and seemingly daunting procedure, pap smears are painless. It’s recommended that screenings begin at 21-years-old, and if nothing abnormal is found you can go for a screening every three years. It was previously accepted to go for a pap smear annually, but with recent advancements in technology you’re only required to go every three years. Pap smears are crucial because they allow for early diagnosis and treatment of pre-cancerous cells which can prevent cervical cancer from developing by 80%.

Common symptoms include; bleeding between periods, heavier or longer periods, vaginal bleeding, pain during penetrative sex, or urinating unusually frequently. People with HIV have a significantly higher chance of being diagnosed with cervical cancer too. Cervical cancer is caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is very common and spread through skin contact, bodily fluids and sex. There are over 40 types of HPV, but in South Africa only two are considered high risk.

Gynaecological Cancer is the umbrella term for a group of cancers that involve the reproductive system. These include, cancers of the vagina, vulva, ovaries and uterus. Although they’re not as widely talked about as cervical cancer it’s still important to have an idea of the signs and symptoms of each of them for early detection and prevention. Below are some common symptoms for cancers of the vagina, vulva, ovaries and uterus:

Ovarian cancer:

-Pain during penetrative sex

-Abdominal swelling with weight loss

-Irregular periods

Uterine cancer:

-Pain or pressure on the pelvis

-Irregular or heavy bleeding

-Unusual spotting or discharge

Vaginal cancer:

-Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sex

-A lump in the vagina

-Painful urination

Vulvar cancer:

-Unusual itchiness

-Pain or burning

-An open sore that lasts for more than a month

If you’re experiencing more than one of these symptoms or if you’re unsure about anything, please seek assistance from a medical professional as soon as possible. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be serious, at least you’ll have peace of mind.