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Join the fight against cervical cancer with Dr Kelly Loi of the HEALTH & FERTILITY CENTRE FOR WOMEN, who arms you with general knowledge and answers common questions about this condition.
Q: What is cervical cancer?
A: Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, which lies at the lower part of the uterus (womb) and opens into the top of the vagina. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV is a common virus spread through sexual intercourse. There are many different types of HPV. Some strains lead to cervical cancer, while others may cause genital warts.
Q: How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
A: Before HPV infection leads to cervical cancer, it causes a pre- cancerous condition called dysplasia, which can be detected by a Pap smear. This pre-cancerous condition is 100 percent treatable, which is why women must go for regular Pap smears. Undetected pre-cancerous changes can develop into cervical cancer, which can then spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs and liver. Because pre-cancerous changes of the cervix and cervical cancer cannot be seen with the naked eye, Pap smears are needed to help detect these changes. If abnormal changes are found on a Pap smear, the cervix is usually examined under magnification with the help of a microscope in a procedure called colposcopy. During colposcopy, small pieces of tissue may be removed and sent to a laboratory for examination.
Q: What are some of the common symptoms?
A: Although most of the time early cervical cancer has no symptoms, some indications can include vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between menstrual periods or after menopause, or abnormal vaginal discharge that may be blood stained or foul smelling.
Q: What types of people are prone to cervical cancer?
A: Those who are at a high risk are those who have unhealthy lifestyle habits. Women who began having sex at an early age, have multiple sexual partners, smoke, have a weak immune system and do not go for regular Pap smears are more susceptible to cervical cancer.
Q: What can one do to reduce their risk of cervical cancer?
A: Live healthily: Women should practice safe sex by, for example, getting their partner to use condoms. And because smoking has been shown to increase the risk of cervical cancer, women should avoid or quit smoking. Have a regular Pap smear: Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears, or they have not followed up on abnormal Pap smear results. Speak to your doctor about HPV vaccination: There are two types of vaccines available – Cervarix and Gardasil. Cervarix protects against HPV types 16 and 18, while Gardasil protects against infection by HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. HPV types 16 and 18 cause
about 70 percent of cervical cancers, while HPV types 6 and 11 cause genital warts. The vaccinations are given as three injections over six months. They have been proven to be safe and effective, potentially giving lifetime protection against cervical cancer.
Dr Kelly Loi Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist