The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, it is cylindrical in shape and measures about 2 centimetres in length. It has a canal within it which connects the inside of the uterus with the vagina. Sperm cells discharged into the vagina during intercourse pass into the uterus through the cervix and thence to the fallopian tubes. During labour the cervix dilates to allow passage of the baby, failure to dilate may lead to caesarian section to bring out the baby and several complications. The cervix is therefore important in fertility, childbirth and contraception.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer, with several women being diagnosed with the condition annually around the world. While a few factors decrease the risk for the diseases several factors increase it; the few that decrease the risk include diet high in Vitamin A and Carotenoids such as carrots; use of intrauterine device (IUD) and use of barrier contraceptives such as condom, cervical cap and diaphragm.
Cervical cancer is known to be associated with a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) transmitted through sexual contact. Risk factors include having too many children, not enough spacing between children, low nutrition levels and early marriage and promiscuity. The disease can be prevented by vaccination in teenage years.
1. Cancer of the cervix affects only women
Cervical cancer occurs only in women because men do not have cervix.
2. Early onset of sexual activity is a risk factor
The number of years between first menstruation and first sexual encounter is also important; the fewer the number of years the greater the risk.
3. Incidence decreases with age
Age plays a big role in cervical cancer; the incidence diminishes with age; that means it is commoner in younger women.
4. Symptoms include vaginal bleeding
Vaginal bleeding outside the normal cycle is abnormal; it could be bleeding in-between periods or bleeding after vaginal examination or prolonged bleeding or heavy bleeding.
Report any of these cases to your doctor immediately.
Menopause heralds the cessation of menstrual cycle, any bleeding after menopause is abnormal and should be thoroughly investigated. It could be due to cervical erosion or cervical cancer or fibroid or infections. Cancer must be ruled out.
It is not usual to bleed per vagina after vaginal sex except there is a problem; one of such problems is cervical cancer. If vaginal bleeding is experienced after sex, it must be reported immediately to a health professional for thorugh investigation. Do not hesitate.
5. Early detection is life saving
Early diagnosis of cervical cancer affects outcome; it is actually one cancer where a cure can be achieved, hence we should be aware of the symptoms. Regular PAP smear every two to three years from the age of 21 to 65 years is recommended. The test looks for abnormal cervical cells which if left alone can become cancerous; during the Pap screening test, the doctor could also test for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is the cause of cervical cancer.
6. It is preventable by vaccination
As said above cervical cancer is caused by HPV infection particularly virus 16 and 18. This infection can be prevented by vaccination of females against HPV between the ages of 12 and 26 years.
It is usually in two doses with 6 months interval.