The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, an organ of the female reproductive tract. It connects the vagina with the main body of the uterus, acting as a gateway between them. Cervical cancer occurs when the DNA in the cells lining the cervix undergo mutations causing the cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably. The abnormal cells accumulate and form a mass known as a tumor. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly all cervical cancers are linked to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and is spread by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. Other risk factors include smoking and a weakened immune system. According to recent statistics from the HPV information centre (2021), cervical cancer ranks 3rd as the most frequent cancer among women in Mauritius and 2nd as the most frequent cancer among women aged between 15 and 44 years old.
Cervical cancer symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms include:
- pain during sexual intercourse
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- more vaginal discharge than usual
- vaginal discharge having an unusual colour and strong odour.
- vaginal bleeding between periods
- menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than usual
- pelvic pain
Risk of cervical cancer can be reduced by:
- HPV vaccine
HPV vaccine is safe and prevents cervical cancer. The WHO advocates two doses of HPV vaccine spaced at least 6 months apart for all girls aged 9-14 years. The most effective way to prevent HPV infection is to get vaccinated before having sex for the first time. The HPV vaccine is not recommended for women older than age 26 years since more women belonging to this age range have already been exposed to HPV.
- Routine Pap tests
Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated in order to prevent cervical cancer.
- Practice safe sex
Take necessary measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections by using a condom during sex and limiting the number of sexual partners.
- Stop smoking
Women who smoke are more at risk of developing cervical cancer than those who do not smoke. Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke and these substances damage the DNA of cervix cells which then lead to cervical cancer.
At MedActiv, we believe that health education leads to actions and changes in lifestyle which are conducive to health. This January during cervical cancer awareness month, MedActiv encourages HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening. HPV vaccine is available in our pharmacies upon request. Ask advice from your doctor or pharmacist.