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Do You Know What The Month of January is?

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, a great time to educate the public about Cervical Cancer. Do you know that it was once the leading cause of death from cancer in women? But thanks to the emergence of HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening, it is the most preventable of all female cancers.

So what is Cervical cancer? How common is it?

Cervical cancer is cancer that arises in women’s cervix, which connects the uterus with the vagina. It occurs because there are abnormal changes in the cells within the cervix which eventually develop into cervical cancer. This cancer can affect the deeper tissues and may spread to other parts of the body if not taken care of. Cervical cancer develops slowly, but before it causes severe health issues, there is usually time to find it and treat it. Therefore, it is better to take precaution and prevention before any tragedy happens.

According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the 4th most common cancer among females globally. And it is the 3rd most prevalent cancer among women in Malaysia.

On top of that, Malaysian women who aged between 15-44 are most vulnerable to this cancer which makes it the 2nd highest cancer rate for this particular age range.

According to the Malaysian National Cancer Registry (MNCR) Report, the chances of getting cervical cancer are at a staggering 3.5%.

With 3.5%, approximately 1 of out every 25 people will get Cervical Cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a highly widespread disease that is spread through sexual contact. HPV is so common that it is experienced by most individuals at any point in their lives. Usually, HPV does not have any signs, so there is no way to tell if someone has it. HPV would go away on its own for most women, but if it does not, there is a risk that it may develop into cervical cancer over time.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has found out that there are 13 types of HPV that can cause cervical cancers. In fact, 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV. While most HPV infections cure spontaneously and cause no symptoms, in women, chronic infection can lead to cervical cancer.

Another factor that would put one at risk of getting cervical cancer is their dietary habits and lifestyle. All of these could result in incremental chances of getting cervical cancer which includes:

· Smoking

· Having multiple sexual partners

· Immune system suppression

· Consuming birth control pills over a long period of time (five years or more)

· Having given birth to three or more children

· Having sexual intercourse at a very young age

Signs and Symptoms by WHO

In the early stages of cervical cancer, it may not cause any signs or symptoms, particularly in the early stages. However, as cancer progresses, symptoms may start to develop. Especially when the cancer cells start to invade other surrounding tissues.

In the early stages of cervical cancer, the symptoms include:

o Abnormal vaginal bleeding

o Irregular blood spotting and/ or light bleeding between periods in women of reproductive age

o Post-menopausal spotting and bleeding

o Pain during and bleeding after sexual intercourse

o Increase vaginal discharge, sometimes with foul-smelling

Meanwhile, when cancer worsens, severe symptoms start to show, such as:

o Persistent back, leg and/or pelvic pain

o Weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite

o Foul-smelling discharge and vaginal discomfort

o Swelling of a leg or both lower extremities

It is important to remember that these signs can be caused by a number of causes and are not unique to cervical cancer. However, it is better to note these down and take precautions because prevention is better than cure.

Prevention of HPV

Not only females are prone to HPV, but actually men too. In fact, 80% of men and women will get HPV over the course of their lifetime. The World Health Organization has recommended a set of actions to prevent and eliminate cervical cancer across the life course.

1. HPV Vaccination

HPV Vaccines works best if administered prior to exposure to HPV. Thus, the WHO has recommended young children who have not started a sexual activity to take the vaccines. And using it as the first line of defence against HPV.

2. Screening and Treatment Programmes

Cervical cancer screening includes testing for pre-cancer and cancer. When screening detects an HPV infection or pre-cancerous lesions, followed by immediate treatment, the development of cancer can be prevented. Testing can also diagnose tumours at an early stage and treatment has a high potential for cure. As it takes several years for pre-cancerous lesions to develop, screening is advised for women aged 30 and above and regularly afterwards.

3. Improve children’s awareness and knowledge and improve their attitude towards HPV vaccination

Both boys and girls should be educated since a very young age to understand the severity of HPV and cervical cancer. They should know about health information and warnings about tobacco use. Besides, sex education should be given provided that is tailored to the age and culture of the children. Also, they should understand the significance of HPV Vaccination and should be taken seriously to prevent themselves from getting HPV. Last but not least, institutions should promote the usage of condom for those who were to engage in any sexual activity to prevent any spreading of HPV.

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