Women’s health issues - cervical cancer

IN recognition of Women’s Month, female physician Dr N. Zondi of Kranskop is highlighting health problems to alert women and to urge them to take early preventative steps.

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix (the mouth of the womb).

It causes the largest number of deaths among women in many developing countries and it remains one of South Africa’s biggest women’s health problems.

Human Papilloma virus (HPV) causes more than 90% of cases. Most people who have had HPV infections, however, do not develop cervical cancer.

Other risk factors include smoking, a weak immune system, birth control pills, starting sex at a young age, and having many sexual partners.

The early stages of cervical cancer may be completely free of symptoms.

Vaginal bleeding, contact bleeding (one most common form being bleeding after sexual intercourse), or (rarely) a vaginal mass may indicate the presence of cancer. Also, moderate pain during sexual intercourse and vaginal discharge are symptoms of cervical cancer.

Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, pelvic pain, back pain, leg pain, swollen legs, heavy vaginal bleeding, bone fractures, and (rarely) leakage of urine or feces.

Prevention includes early screening by doing a Pap smear, HPV vaccines, and barrier protection, which includes the use of condoms and a spermicidal gel. Good nutrition is also essential.

Treatment is stage dependent.