Wed | May 18, 2022

Cervical cancer is preventable

Published:Wednesday | April 6, 2022 | 12:07 AMKeisha Hill /Senior Gleaner Writer

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent with regular Pap smears and follow-up. It is also highly curable when found and treated early.

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV for short. HPV is commonly spread through sexual contact and can cause an infection in the cervix. This may cause the cells of the cervix to change and become pre-cancer cells. Sometimes pre-cancer cells may turn into cancer if they are not found and treated early.

All women are at risk for cervical cancer and occurs most often in women over age 30.

Cervical cancer screening has dramatically reduced new cases and deaths from the disease over the past 50 years. But the percentage of women in the United States who are overdue for cervical cancer screening has been growing, and the reasons have not been clear.

To better understand the decline in cervical screening, researchers analysed data on more than 20,000 women who were eligible for screening in the United States of America. Between 2005 and 2019, the analysis showed, the rates of timely cervical cancer screening fell overall.


In addition, the analysis showed disparities among groups of women. In 2019, compared with non-Hispanic White women, Asian and Hispanic women were more likely to be overdue for screening, as were women who lived in rural areas, lacked insurance, or identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, other, or unsure (LGBQ+).

The most common reason study participants gave for not receiving timely screening was lack of knowledge about screening or not knowing they needed screening, according to findings published in JAMA Network Open on January 18, 2022.

“Cervical cancer is preventable,” said lead investigator Ryan Suk, PhD, of the University of Texas Health Science Centre in Houston. “But the incidence of the disease is higher than it should be, and there are large disparities in the rates of timely screening among women of different socio-demographic groups.”

“The new findings highlight how important it is for healthcare providers to recommend cervical cancer screenings to their patients, Dr Suk continued.” Awareness campaigns that use culturally appropriate messages are needed to promote cervical screening to groups with lower-than-optimal screening rates, she added.

Here in Jamaica, cervical cancer is the sixth most common cancer overall, and the third most common in women. The incidence here is as much as over twice the rates in some other Caribbean islands, with approximately 200 women dying annually from cervical cancer in Jamaica.

The Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) and Injury Prevention Unit of the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) is making a special appeal to women to have their screening done. Dr Cathi-Ann Williams, NCD Risk Factor programme development officer, said cervical cancer is preventable with vaccination and screening. It can also be treated and even cured, if detected early.

“Cervical cancer grows slowly, so there is usually time to find and treat it before it causes serious complications. We are encouraging women, and also healthcare providers to encourage their patients to have their Pap smear done,” Williams said.

The risk of cervical cancer is increased by a number of factors, including smoking, a weakened immune system (for example, with HIV infection) and multiple sexual partners. Screening for cervical cancer usually starts at age 21 and goes up to age 64 years.

Women at high risk for cervical cancer should have screening done every year. Women at average risk for cervical cancer should have screening done every three years, once each test is normal. Abnormal results warrant more frequent testing and further treatment.

Head of the Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) and Injury Prevention Unit of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr Nicola Skyers, said HPV vaccination reduces the risk of cervical cancer.

“In the public sector, the HPV vaccine is currently offered to girls aged 9-14 years. We encourage adults to talk with their private healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine, to see if it could be beneficial to them and their families,” Skyers said.

For women who find it difficult to have their screening done because of financial constraints, the Jamaica Cancer Society offers Pap smears at a reduced cost, in an effort towards encouraging and supporting cervical cancer prevention, management and treatment.

No woman should die from cervical cancer. Check Up … Follow Up … Live Up!

How can I find out if I am at risk for cervical cancer?

There are three screening tests that can help to detect cervical cancer before it develops:

 The Pap smear (or Pap test) is the most commonly used cervical cancer screening test. It looks for pre-cancers, or cell changes, on the cervix that can be treated.

 The HPV test looks for HPV – the virus that can cause pre-cancerous cell changes and cervical cancer. It identifies women at high risk for cervical cancer who may need to be treated to prevent cervical cancer.

 The VIA (Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid) inspects the cervix, using acetic acid (distilled vinegar) to identify abnormal changes on the cervix and that can be treated to prevent cervical cancer.

SOURCE: Ministry of Health and Wellness; Jamaica Cancer Society, The Global Cancer Observatory, University of Texas Health Science Centre in Houston.