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Raising Awareness about Cervical Cancer

January is celebrated as cervical cancer month worldwide. After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women in Pakistan. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix. The cervix connects the lower part of a woman’s uterus to her vagina. Cervical cancer happens when cells in the cervix grow in an uncontrolled way and build up to form a lump i.e. a tumor. As tumor grows, cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body.

Bilal Foundation celebrates Cervical Cancer day:

Keeping in view the community health needs, Bilal foundation in collaboration with Pharmevo Pharmaceuticals organized ‘Cervical cancer awareness camp' on Thursday 7th Feb 2019 here at Bilal Hospital as part of its long term efforts to educate women about life threatening diseases such as Cervical cancer.

The event was designed to raise awareness in the local community about cervical cancer screening and how it can be prevented. The event was hosted by Dr. Wajeeha ( Medical Officer). It included a detailed lecture on importance of cervical cancer screening along with Q & A session, nutritional guidelines by Ms. Tehmina Saqlain (Nutritionist), free tests such as blood sugar test and cholesterol test and free consultations by Dr. Asma Rauf (SR Cardiology) to all visitors having high cholesterol issues. All the visitors were also offered 40pc discount coupons on pap smear test as well. Program was concluded with refreshments.

Dr Nelofar Saleem (Consultant Gynecologist & Obstetrician) said that due to lack of awareness, conservative mores, and unavailability of adequate screening program nationwide, around 20 women lose their lives every day in Pakistan. Cervical cancer kills an estimated 275,000 women every year and 500,000 new cases are reported worldwide. It is more common in low and middle-income countries, with most women dying in their 30s.

70pc women consults a gynecologist, when cervical cancer is already at an advanced stage i.e. the 3rd and 4rth stage of any cancer and has spread to other body parts. Most of these women die shortly (i.e. 3 months – 1.5 years) after consultation. It is rare that patient consults a healthcare professional at 1st and 2nd stage.

Aside from Cervical cancer women face the risk of various other gynecological cancers including ovarian cancer, womb cancer, vaginal cancer and vulval cancer.

Dr. Nelofar stressed that the first step of prevention is to equip ourselves with the right knowledge, never miss your cervical cancer screening; if you notice any symptoms consult your gynecologist right away. Don’t wait for it to become a life threatening problem for you in future.

Remember that the symptoms of Cervical Cancer are not always obvious, and when they do appear at all, cervical cancer may be at advance stage already. Therefore NEVER miss your Cervical Cancer Screening.

What symptoms to look out for:

Some unusual signs to look out for are:

  • Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods
  • Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
  • Bleeding after intercourse or a pelvic examination
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain

Why do women get cervical cancer?

Common reasons for women to get cervical cancer include:

  • HPV: Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).HPV is a common virus. It can be passed on through any type of sexual activity. There are many types of HPV but only a few causes this cancer. Usually, our body gets rids of it on its own but sometimes this does not happen and abnormal cells can cause cervical cancer. There are more than 100 types of HPV but only a few types cause cancer.
  • Early marriages Marriage during teenage years
  • Frequent childbirth
  • Unsafe sex and having multiple sexual partners
  • Smoking & Drug use
  • Lack of awareness

What is Cervical Screening?

Pap smear test is a type of screening test to prevent cervical cancer. This test involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix. The sample is than sent to laboratory and checked under a microscope to see if there are any abnormal cells. Abnormal cells are not necessarily cancer, but they could develop into cancer if left untreated. If some abnormality is found during in your test results, Colposcopy is offered. During Colposcopy you doctor will look at your cervix using a magnifying glass and may take a small sample (Biopsy). After results a complete diagnosis and treatment plan is offered. Screening guidelines include:

  • 25 – 49 years of sexually active women:  Must have a pap smear test after every 3 years
  • 50 – 65 years of sexually active women: Must have a pap smear test after every 5 years
  • 65 years and older sexually active women : If healthy, there is no need for screening

Early Prevention for young girls and women:

HPV vaccination can save lives. All female kids from 9 yrs to 14yrs should have an HPV vaccination course. If your child is older than 14 years, three shots will be given over a 6 month period. Another crucial time to get vaccinated is before marriage (i.e. before becoming sexually active). Getting the vaccine as early as possible will protect your young girl in future, said Dr. Nelofar. Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. It is also highly curable when found early and treated early.