Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer originating in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus, primarily caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. The progression from abnormal cells to cancer typically takes 15–20 years, but in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with untreated HIV, the process can be expedited, occurring within 5–10 years.

Globally, cervical cancer ranks as the third most common cancer among women. In Kenya, it is the second leading type of female cancer, with the highest incidence in women aged 15–44 years. Regular screenings, starting at the age of 30 (25 for women with HIV), can aid in early detection and prevention. Risk factors include persistent high-risk HPV infection, smoking, weakened immune system, long-term use of oral contraceptives, family history of cervical cancer, multiple term pregnancies, and early age at first pregnancy.

Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding, foul-smelling discharge, pelvic pain, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. Seeking medical help upon experiencing these symptoms is crucial, as early detection significantly improves outcomes.

Prevention strategies include HPV vaccination, recommended for individuals aged 9-45, and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and practicing safe sex. Screening involves pap smears every 3 years for women aged 21–65, with the addition of HPV testing every 5 years. Catch-up vaccination is advised for those not vaccinated earlier. The global strategy encourages at least two lifetime screens with a high-performance HPV test by age 35 and 45.

After a positive HPV test, healthcare providers can perform further tests essential for preventing cervical cancer. Treatment options include colposcopy, thermal ablation, cryotherapy, LEETZ, cone biopsy, surgical interventions like LEEP, hysterectomy for advanced cases, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The stages range from Stage 0 (in situ) to Stages I-IV, with a 5-year relative survival rate of 91% when diagnosed early and 60% when diagnosed at advanced stages.

Advancements in treatment include personalized treatment plans based on individual characteristics and targeted therapies aimed at specific cancer cells. Ongoing research aims to develop more effective vaccines, explore new treatment modalities, and enhance early detection methods for improved outcomes in the future.