Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is usually named according to the body part where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer.HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.
Screening tests and the HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer. When cervical cancer is diagnosed early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.
There are 3 types of tests available for cervical cancer detection.
- Visual Inspection by Acetic acid (VIA) which is recommended for low-middle income countries like Nigeria.
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
- The HPV test looks for the human papilloma virus that can cause cervical cell changes.
You should start getting Pap tests at age 21. If your Pap test result is normal, your Doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN GOING FOR CERVICAL SCREENING?
During a Pap test or a VIA, the Doctor will use a plastic or metal instrument, called a speculum, to widen your vagina. This helps the Doctor examine the vagina and the cervix.
If it’s a VIA, the acetic acid is introduced into the cervix, and this helps the Doctor examine the cervix for cervical cancer lesions.
If it’s a Pap Smear, few cells and mucus are collected from the cervical region and are sent to a laboratory.
- If you are getting a Pap test, the cells will be checked to see if they look normal.
- If you are getting an HPV test, the cells will be tested for HPV.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR CERVICAL CANCER SCREENING
You should not schedule your test for a time when you are having your period.
If you are going to have a test in the next two days:
- You should not douche (rinse the vagina with water or another fluid).
- You should not use a tampon.
- You should not have sex.
- You should not use a birth control foam, cream, or jelly.
- You should not use a medicine or cream in your vagina.
It can take as long as three weeks to receive your test results. If your test shows that something might not be normal, a Doctor will contact you and figure out how best to follow up. There are many reasons why test results might not be normal. It usually does not mean you have cancer.
If your test results show cells that are not normal and may become cancer, your Doctor will let you know if you need to be treated. In most cases, treatment prevents cervical cancer from developing. It is important to follow up with your Doctor right away to learn more about your test results and receive any treatment that may be needed.
If your test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. Your Doctor may tell you that you can wait several years for your next cervical cancer screening test. But you should still go to the Doctor regularly for a check-up.
Why can’t I get a pap smear test?
Due to complex infrastructure requirements and quality assurance issues, the WHO recommends either human papillomavirus (HPV) testing or visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) instead of a pap smear for screening programs in low-middle income countries like Nigeria.
VIA and pap smears can be done in most teaching and general hospitals in Nigeria.