BY SUSAN MUYIYI
OCTOBER is cancer awareness month. Of the many cancers that affect women, the cervical one can be treated, if diagnosed early. However, many women are scared by the procedure of testing for cervical cancer.
One trick around this could be focusing on something else, while the test is being done. This could be humming your favourite song or remembering your best scene in a movie you love.
Within a few minutes, the doctor would have finished performing a Pap smear. A Pap smear is a test done on a sample of cells taken from the cervix, to detect small tumours that may lead to cervical cancer.Â The good news is that if precancerous conditions are detected early, the cancer can be treated, gynaecologists at Mulago and Mbarara hospitals say.
Joy was glad she took the test in time. Her grandmother had suffered breast cancer and she could not take any risks. While she thought the invasion of privacy as she lay before a stranger, legs ajar, was her worst experience, waiting for the results, two weeks later, was even harder.
â€œI feared to open the envelope containing the results, especially when the doctor asked me to stay behind.â€ Her palms sweated and she used the bathroom several times before she could internalise the results. Her cells were precancerous!
The good news is that after treatment, her doctor gave her a clean bill of health.Â A Pap smear has become an annual routine for her.
Maria Muyanja was not as lucky. Her worst fear as a teenager in the 1950s was falling pregnant outside wedlock. By 16, she was a wife, and had 10 children in quick succession. When a sharp pain interrupted her trips to the garden several years later, doctors at Mulago Hospital diagnosed cervical cancer in its final stages.
Doctors say the stealthy nature of the disease does not prompt enough action among women. The disease does not show any symptoms in its early stages. It could take between 10-20 years. A number of women are infected during their teenage and develop cancer in later years.
A Pap smear is supposed to be free in government hospitals like Mulago and health centres like Kawempe Health Centre IV, but this depends on the availability of the screening materials. Private clinics charge between sh50,000 and sh100,000. For a subsidised fee of sh10,000, one can get screened at Katego Family Planning Clinic in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb.
The doctors say survival rates among cases detected early is up to 100%, while late detection could mean that the cancer has spread to the spleen, uterus and the bones.
Beat cervical cancer
Go for annual Pap smears
Practice safe sex. Women are exposed to cervical cancer by their partnersâ€™ behaviour because the infection is transmitted from one woman to another by men. Always insist on using condoms.
Delay sex. Gynaecologists say starting sex at an early age, moreover with different partners, exposes the outer surface of the cervix which is more vulnerable in young girls than in older women.
Have your children with one partner.
Women who have children from different men increase their risk of getting cervical cancer.