By Faith Kyateka
‘We can. I can’ is the theme for World Cancer Day marked every year on 4th February. This theme reminds us to act collectively or as individuals to fight Cervical Cancer. It is a call to action for us to get the facts right and act NOW rather than later to ensure that we reduce the global burden of Cervical Cancer.
Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in developing countries. Second to breast cancer, it is the most common cancer in women worldwide and primarily affects women aged 30 years and older. In Uganda, about 33.6% of women are estimated to harbor the human papillomavirus infection – the main cause of cervical cancer – at any given time.
One of the biggest barriers in this fight is the little or no information available to most Ugandan women regarding cervical cancer, meaning that the disease continues to be undiagnosed and untreated despite it being largely preventable.
At Marie Stopes Clinic in Namuwongo, Kampala, the centre manager Dorcus Tuhirirwe says many women go for cervical cancer screening after they start feeling pain and getting symptoms associated with the disease. “In most cases, at that time, it is already too late.” This underscores the importance of information and early diagnosis as critical factors in the fight against cervical cancer.
Unlike many cancers, cervical cancer can be prevented. Primary prevention can be achieved by avoiding infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted agent that causes the disease. The Centres for Disease Control recommends that girls aged 9 to 12 years receive the HPV vaccination to protect themselves against cancers caused by HPV.
Secondary prevention measures, including using relatively cheap screening and treatment technologies that can detect abnormal growth of cells before they progress to cancer, are also very effective. Other methods such as screening using visual inspection and first line treatments, are possible at various health centres, including Marie Stopes Uganda (MSU) clinics countrywide at a relatively low cost. Screening is available for as low as Ugsh5,000. MSU also operates a free hotline – 0800220333 – through which one can get more information on cervical cancer and referral services.
Medical outreaches, such as those done by Marie Stopes International Uganda, provide opportunities for free cervical cancer screening countrywide.
Cervical cancer is a silent killer and creates a heavy burden for women in the prime of their life, their families, and the health care system.
As we mark World Cancer day, our call to action is to therefore to;
- Mobilise and create awareness about cervical cancer, its effects and the availability of prevention services.
- Practice and adopt healthy life style choices.
- Encourage women to go for Cervical Cancer screening and treatment services
Ms Kyateka is the Head of Communications and Public Relations, Marie Stopes Uganda.
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