All About Cervical Cancer in Jamaica
According to the latest statistics, Cervical Cancer is the second most common cancer in Jamaican women and the 5th most common cancer in Jamaica. And so today, World Cancer Day, Jamaica Moves will highlight key information about cervical cancer, and other common cancers in Jamaica in an effort to encourage everyone to be vigilant and for those at risk to screen for the disease.
Jamaica Moves spoke with Gynaecologist, Dr. Judith Dallas about some key cervical cancer facts.
What is Cervical Cancer?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) which connects to the vagina. When there is a cancerous change in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer.
Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. But according to Dr. Dallas, medical professionals consider cervical cancer to be preventable.
Almost all women with a cervix are at risk for cervical cancer - especially women who are sexually active. Other risk factors tend to be those related to sexual activities and lifestyle including:
promiscuity; having multiple partners or having a partner who has multiple other partners puts a woman at increased risk of contracting HPV
Signs and Symptoms of cervical cancer include:
Persistent Discharge that is not responding to medication
Bleeding after sex
Bleeding in between periods
Screening for Cervical Cancer
As mentioned earlier, cervical cancer is considered to be preventable. But in order to prevent the disease women must get screened by getting an annual pap-smear.
During a pap-smear, gynaecologists look for precancerous changes (evidence that a cancer will or may develop). Research and evidence have shown that there are changes on the cervix up to 5 -10 years before those changes become cervical cancer.
If there are any abnormal findings on the cervix, that does not mean the woman has cancer. And those changes or abnormalities can be treated. Most importantly, the development of cervical cancer can be averted.
It is also recommended that after treating any abnormalities or changes in the cervix, women must still get their annual pap-smear!
“It is recommended that women start getting their annual pap-smear at age 21, whether or not they are sexually active.”
- Dr. Judith Dallas
Human Papillomavirus HPV Vaccine
In addition, there are HPV Vaccines that can help in the fight against cervical cancer. The vaccine is most useful before sexual activity starts. And in Jamaica girls aged 11 - 12 can participate in the national HPV vaccination programme which offers the vaccine to them during scheduled school visits. Parents and guardians may also take their girls to health centres, present the immunization cards and request the vaccine.
Importantly, Dr. Dallas says that women can be immunized up to age 55. And the HPV vaccine can be obtained privately from a pediatrician, gynaecologist, and a general physician can refer to places that offer it as well.
Treatment of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is not a death sentence. It can be treated using a number of interventions. In Jamaica, treatment options typically include:
A debulking surgery is usually one intervention. It involves the removal of the cervix, uterus, ovaries and associated nodes.
In Jamaica there are Linear accelerators that are able to do intensity modulated radiotherapy which is a very sophisticated form of treatment.
The administering of medication to reduce the cancerous tumour (group of cells).