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What is cervical cancer

Feb 1, 2011, 12:25 PM

Every 10 minutes, a woman dies in Africa from the cancer  of the woman's womb

In continuation with our regular Health issues DR AZADEH, Senior Lecturer at the University of the Gambia and Senior Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology focusing this week on the cervical  cancer as commonest cancer in woman in Africa and availability of  the diagnostic and treatment procedures here in The Gambia.

DR AZADEH what is cervical cancer?

It is actually a very true fact that every 10 minutes, a woman dies in Africa from cervical cancer (cancer of the neck of womb), identified significant number of cases here in The Gambia, incidence about 14% too, despite the fact that almost every case and I wish to emphasise almost every single case is preventable through a programme of screening by been screened at least every two years.

Fortunately screening and treatment facilities are available here in The Gambia at number of Government Hospitals in particular at RVTH, which sponsored by the "FRANCES DE GAULLE FONDATION" a Gambian Charitable Organisation. Also at Poly Clinic, various Health centres, NGO and private clinics such as BAFROW, Gambia Family Planning Association (GFPA), Lamtoro Medical Centre and many other clinics.

The risk factors as in other cancer types, also cervical cancer, and the onset of disease can be prompted by specific risk factors. These may be Genetically, environmentally or the commonest, the high risks of vaginal washing so called vaginal douching with water, locally made soaps, very often local and different herbal herpes liquids, dettol and many other harmful products unfortunately sold in the various pharmacies.

Also some products recommended by friends and beauty salons, even use of several different perfumes to please the husbands. I can confirm this harmful habit in my everyday's clinics, possibly over up to 90%.

Using any of these motioned harmful products on God given a very natural and healthy tissues to every woman destroys the healthy and protective tissues and makes these area extremely vulnerable for developing millions of harmful bacteria, fungal, viral, HPV and in particular for extremely easy transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and certainly and undoubtedly for HIV virus.

The outcome can end up not only with repeatedly serious symptoms of pelvic infections, long standing infertility (childless) and finally preventable death of very young women.

Cervical Cancer - Diagnostic Procedures

Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women worldwide. The good news is that 92% of the cases can be detected and treated if a woman undergoes regular pelvic exams and Pap tests. Many methods currently exist to detect cervical cancer.

Pap Smear, Smear test

The most common diagnosis for detecting cervical cancer in its early stages is a procedure called a Papanicolaou test or Pap smear. This test is painless, normally takes less than 5 minutes to complete and can be performed in any clinic with a trained doctor or nurse. Women who are 16 (early marriage) or older or who are sexually active are recommended to undergo annual Pap smear tests.

The procedure is performed while a woman is lying on her back on a table. The trained doctor or a trained nurse will insert an instrument called a speculum inside her vagina before removing some cells from the cervix using a cotton swab or small brush. The cells are prepared then sent to the RVTH laboratory where they are studied under a microscope to determine if any precancerous (early signs) or cancerous cells exist. If the tests show any abnormalities, the patient will be asked to return to the Gynaecologist so an additional test can be performed. If the test results are negative, women can schedule an annual appointment.


Another method used to detect cervical cancer is called colposcopy which is fortunately available at RVTH. This procedure involves the use of a special binocular microscope that is called a colposcope and is very similar to a Pap smear and can recognise any abnormal cells on the neck of the womb.

The doctor can then view the cells using the high-powered microscope to detect any abnormal cancerous cells.

Some women are more at risk than others. Following factors increase the chances of Cervical Cancer in women:

Human Papilloma Virus: HPV is a widely spread sexually transmitted agent. HPV infection has been identified as the most import risk factor for cervical cancer.

Multiple Sex partners: polygamy and women who have more than one sex partner are at higher risk by increasing the chance of a Human

Pappilomavirus (HPV) infection.

Early Sexual activity: Women who have had early sexual activity before 18 years of age are more at risk as the Cervical cells are veryfragile at this young age.

Other STD infections: Women who have had some other Sexually Transmitted Disease (AIDS, GONORRHOEA) are more prone to Cervical Cancer. Family history of cervical cancer: Some families show a higher incidence of cervical cancer. Some scientists believe they might carry a genetic condition making them more sensible for the negative effects of HPV infections.

Age seems to play a definite role as this cancer is more common in very young women age 18-35 in the Gambia and quite rare in the older women. 

• Contraceptive Pills: Women who are regularly on the pills may get Cervical Cancer faster as they do not use condoms which are more suited to prevent STD's. 
Income/socio-economic status: Since the earning levels are directly related to the living standards, lower income women are almost 5 times more at risk than higher income groups.

Race: African Asian women are at higher risk of having cervical cancer and are more likely to have an advanced stage at the time of detection than Caucasian Women. 

Unhealthy diets: Improper diet is also a reason that can put women at risk. Malnutrition is also recognised as a cause.

• High fasting blood sugar levels: Incidences of cervical cancer are more in the women who have 140mg/DL levels of Glucose Sugar. 

Multiple pregnancies: Multiple child birth may also increase the risk of cervical cancer in the women.

So summarising the risk factors, besides these which cannot be influenced such as age, race and family history, some of them can be positively modified, like sexual habits, smoking or diet, to lower the risk for cervical cancer.

We are very fortunate in The Gambia having sufficient facilitates in the above mentioned clinics to diagnose and to treat  every case of early diagnosed of cervical abnormalities and there is no need for over sea treatments.

For further information please visit any of these clinics and also call The Point New paper, the "FRANCES DEGULLE FONDATION", 8904104 and DR AZADEH on 7774469/3774469.