Cervical cancer is not something to be taken lightly. According to data compiled by the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women. In 2018, approximately 570,000 women were diagnosed worldwide with about 311,000 mortalities. They also report that primary and secondary prevention methods can prevent most cervical cancer cases and it is also one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer (if detected early and effectively managed).
What is it and what is the cause?
Cancer Research UK explains that cervical cancer “is when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix grow in an uncontrolled way and eventually form a growth (tumour)”. They mention that if not caught early enough, the cancer cells will gradually grow into the surrounding tissues and could spread to other areas of the body. The organization also informs us that the main cause is a persistent infection of certain types of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a common virus that, in most cases, can be cleared by the immune system without problems.
Explanatory research was conducted by Melanie Dalby (a Macmillan patient experience and engagement lead for cancer and pharmacist at Barts Health NHS Trust and Yvonne Law (an oncology pharmacist specialising in gynaecology and uro-oncology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust) and published in the Pharmaceutical Journal (2020). They outline a few methods to prevent cervical cancer as well as methods to detect it.
How is it diagnosed?
Dalby and Law explain that there is a high likelihood of detecting cervical cancer in its early stages by completing regular screening. The purpose thereof is to detect the presence of HPV and abnormal cell changes that could lead to this form of cancer. This cannot be done on one’s own, thus an appointment needs to be made with a General Practitioner (GP), gynecologist, visiting a walk-in centre that offers cervical screening, or going to a sexual health service. HPV primary screening involves taking cells from the cervix and testing them for HPV.
Is prevention possible?
In addition to screening for HPV, Dalby and Law suggest that research recommends HPV vaccination to be administered before the onset of sexual activity and exposure to HPV. They mention that the vaccine can be given to individuals up to the age of 25 through their GP. Prevention of spreading HPV is also possible by practicing safe intercourse.
According to Cancer Research UK, while cervical cancer is more common in younger women, it can also affect trans men if they haven’t yet had a total hysterectomy (removal of the womb and cervix). In addition to the risks and prevention methods involved, it is therefore important for these individuals to be screened for HPV as soon as possible.