Historically, cervical cancer plagued women for a long time. A breakthrough came in the mid-20th century when screening measures started being implemented.
The healthcare industry was hopeful that screening would drastically reduce cervical cancer incidence globally. Unfortunately, the disease is still prevalent worldwide, with sub-Saharan Africa bearing the burden of the disease. In Ghana, cervical cancer is the second most frequent cancer seen in women. Every year 2,797 women in Ghana are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 1,699 die from the disease.
In many cervical cancer cases, there are no early stage signs and symptoms. The cancer develops in the cells lining a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the uterus from the vagina) and is almost always linked to infection with high-risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact.
Advanced-stage cervical cancer may have symptoms like vaginal bleeding and unusual discharge, which women often dismiss as normal menstrual cycle-related events, or self-diagnose as another infection.
Women are recommended to always look out for bleeding during or after sex, or in between menstrual periods, pain during or after sex, changes in vaginal discharge, or pain in lower back or pelvis. These may be signs of more advanced-stage cervical cancer. It is important to note that having these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer; you should however get them checked out by your doctor.The good news is that cervical cancer does not have to advance to this late stage. It can be detected early through regular screening, and successfully treated.
Screening for cervical cancer involves a pap smear or an HPV test, or both. A pap smear, also known as a pap test checks for the presence of pre-cancerous cervical cells. An HPV test checks for infection with certain high-risk variants of the human papillomavirus, which cause cervical cells to become pre-cancerous and develop into cervical cancer. If an HPV test determines that a woman is at high risk for cervical cancer, additional screening, like a pap smear, and a colposcopy ( visual examination of cervix) are recommended. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that women 26 years and above should get screened for high-risk HPV at least once every 5 years.
Thanks to Yemaachi Biotech, an African cancer research company based in Ghana, there is an affordable, accessible and easy-to-use test that will detail women’s level of risk for HPV-mediated cervical cancer. The Sheba HPV Test enables women to collect their own samples discretely at home, and drop them off at a conveniently located collection point for HPV testing at Yemaachi’s advanced molecular diagnostic laboratory. Detailed results are returned via email within 72 hours of drop-off.
Women are recommended to share their HPV test results with their physicians or other healthcare workers, especially in the event that a high-risk variant is detected, for further guidance on further testing or treatment.
When diagnosed early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer. Early detection saves lives.