Cervical Cancer in Nigeria: What Every Nigerian Woman Must KnowOn January 25, 2020 by Dr. Clit
It’s January, the month dedicated to creating awareness about one of the worst enemy of Nigerian women, and indeed worldwide. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lowest part of a woman’s womb which connects it to the vagina. It causes the tissues there to grow in an uncontrolled manner. The excessive growth destroys the surrounding organs, and is often lethal when it spreads to other parts of the body.
However, the hopeful news about it is that it grows slowly, can be prevented by vaccination. It can also be treatable if diagnosed early. Adequate knowledge about this disease is important, so below we shall learn what we ought to know about cervical cancer in Nigeria.
Prevalence of Cervical Cancer In Nigeria
According to the recent report by the World Health Organization(WHO) in 2017, over 14000 Nigerian women suffer from cervical cancer annually. It is one of the most frequent cause of cancer-related deaths in Nigerian women.
Worse still, the disease is also greatly common among other developing nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Put together, developing countries account for over 90% of cervical cancer cases worldwide. Globally, it is the third most common cancer in women.
Symptoms: What are the signs of Cervical Cancer?
In it’s early stages, cervical cancer can be silent, giving you no sign. However, in advanced stages it can manifest as
- Bleeding after sexual Intercourse: this is one of the commonest signs. If you are not having sex for the first time, but bleed after doing so with your partner, do call your doctor.
- Bleeding in-between a regular menstrual cycle. If your period usually comes on schedule, but you discover that you bleed before the expected time, you should inform your doctor so he can find out what the problem is.
- Heavy(Menorrhagia) and Longer periods
- Bleeding after douching or undergoing a pelvic exam by your gynaecologist
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
Causes: How Do you Get Cervical Cancer?
Most cases of cervical cancer(about 90%) are caused by a sexually transmitted virus, the Human Papilloma Virus(HPV). There are various types of the virus, with most of them causing other diseases that are not deadly like cervical cancer. Some cause genital warts, which are little hard lumps on the vulva, vagina, penis or the skin.
Risk Factors for Cervical cancer in Nigerian Women
- Early sexual intercourse (Coitarche), especially before the age of sixteen. This increases the chances of the young woman contracting the causative virus very early in life. This gives the virus long enough time to cause cancer.
- Keeping multiple sexual partners. Just like any other Sexually Transmitted Infection(STI), the risk of contracting the Human Papilloma Virus increases exponentially with an increase in the number of sexual partners a woman has.
- Other Sexually Transmitted Disease, like HIV, syphilis, chancroid etc. An already existing STD markedly raises the risk, as the predisposing sexual behavior are often similar. Also, some of these diseases cause ulcers (Injuries to the surface of sexual organs) exposing the skin to infections, including HPV.
- Smoking cigarette. Smoking reportedly doubles the risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Weak Immune System: the immune system helps the body fight off infections, so conditions that decrease it’s effectiveness unsurprisingly increase the risk of having cervical cancer too. It includes women already living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus(HIV), diabetes, chemotherapy or underwent organ transplant.
- Prolonged Use of Oral Contraceptives, for more than five years
- Diethylstilbesterol (DES): this is a drug women used to take in the 1950s to prevent miscarriage. If your mother took it, then your risk of contracting cancer increases.
- Family History: you do need to be more vigilant if you already have a first degree relative like mom, sister already living with cervical cancer.
Diagnosis: Cervical Cancer Screening in Nigeria
It consists of Pap smear Test. It involves a doctor using a brush-like instrument to collect cell samples from the neck of the womb(where it connects with the vagina). After this, the specimen is sent for laboratory tests which will detect any abnormal cells. These cells may develop into cancers if not discovered and treated appropriately. Regular screening should commence at about age 21 and done every three years till the age of 65.
Cervical cancer screening centres in Lagos State include The Bridge Clinic, Ikeja; Well Woman Clinic LUTH; Lakeshore Cancer Centre Victoria Island; Sebeccly Cancer Sabo Yaba etc. In Abuja it can be done at Medimax Hospital, Gwarimpa; ProjectPinkBlue, Utako(An NGO that offers free cervical cancer screening in Abuja), Firmware Laboratories, Garki etc.
How to Prevent Cervical Cancer
- Vaccination: cervical cancer vaccine in Nigeria is not readily available in most government hospitals. However, some private hospitals, Laboratories and NGOs offer vaccination services. The vaccine mostly consists of cervarix and Gardasil-9, given to girls in childhood and adolescence, usually before first sexual intercourse. Since the HPV also causes anal and throat cancer in both men and women, adult men, especially men who have sex with men are vaccinated.
- Public health education, especially in Nigeria and other West African Countries where the awareness of the disease is low. With increased knowledge, most women will present for screening and vaccination for cervical cancer and prevent avoidable deaths.
Treatments for Cervical Cancer In Nigeria
With early detection, cervical cancer is amenable to treatment. If, unfortunately, it is diagnosed lately, it is untreatable. The best way to curb the scourge of cervical cancer in Nigeria is to ensure that most adolescent women are vaccinated, and that adult women undergo Pap smear screening as frequently as recommended.