BY MELUSE KAPATAMOYO
Today, February 4, is World Cancer Day. Free screening and educational programmes on various types of cancers will characterise this all important day.
Zambia has one of the highest incidences of Cancer in the world, with the second worst case of cervical cancer after Tanzania. This is despite the disease being easily preventable with regular screening tests and follow-up. When detected early, it can be managed.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Daily Digest Bulletin has more information on cervical cancer which has been simplified in a form of Question and Answer.
What causes Cervical Cancer?
Cervical Cancer is caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. Most of the time, HPV goes away by itself and does not cause health problems. If the body does not clear the virus, it stays in the body for many years before it causes cancer.
What are the available screening tests?
There are two types of screening tests that can help detect cervical cancer early:
- The Pap test; (Pap smear) looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cancerous if not properly treated.
- The HPV test ; looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
At what age should you test?
The Pap test is recommended for women between the ages 21 and 65. But if you are 30years or older, you may choose to have an HPV or Pap test. Both tests can be performed by your doctor at the same time.
What about HPV Vaccines
HPV Vaccines protect against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer. CDC recommends that all girls and boys who are 11 or 12 years old get three doses (shots) of HPV vaccine.
The vaccine is recommended for all teen girls and women through age 26, who did not get all three doses when they were younger. The drug can also be given to all teen boys and men through age 21, who did not get all three doses when they were younger.
The HPV vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (any man who has sex with men) and men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
Where to test?
The University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka conducts daily free screening. This is in addition to several government clinics dotted around the country. Non-governmental organisations providing reproductive health like Marie Stopes Zambia and Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia are among many health centres which provide cervical cancer screening at a minimal fee. PYM.