We can prevent cervical cancerWritten by Dr. Jessica Bardales-Essien
Some time ago I saw one of my patients, a friend and cancer survivor, in a singing competition at church. The words of the songs were as special to me, as it was to see her and other cancer patients full of life and love, by the help of the Great Physician.
We as doctors take all the credit when things go well and criticism when things go wrong. We cannot forget that only God can make a way when there seems to be no way, that only He can make the impossible possible. We are ultimately tools in His hands.
We are at the beginning of another year. There were difficult times for almost everyone around the globe. We have witnessed natural disasters, sickness, economic recession and so much more internationally and locally. We wonder why we have so many problems.
My best childhood friend lost her battle with cervical cancer some months ago; I have lost dear ones with the same condition in my native country. I was not there to help them. I am here, in St. Kitts-Nevis, so my battle with cancer will be fought here.
Cervical cancer is a SILENT KILLER of which 84% of new cases are in the developing world. Cervical cancer is the only cancer in which the most common cause was identify. Persistent HPV (Human Papiloma Virus) infections are now recognized as the cause of essentially all cervical cancers and are estimated to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are a group of more than 150 related viruses, of which more than 40 types can be sexually transmitted. Some sexually transmitted HPVs cause genital warts, whereas others called high-risk or oncogenic HPVs, can cause cancer. Sometimes, HPV infections can persist for many years. Persistent infections with high-risk HPVs are the primary cause of cervical cancer. HPV infections also cause some cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis, and oropharynx. About 75-80% of sexually active men and women will be infected with HPV at some point in their life. If the high risk HPV virus persists, we are at risk to develop cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is called a silent killer because symptoms often go unnoticed; they mimic so many other ailments. Many women pass these symptoms off as Pain due for period or ovulation pains. Many times, however, cervical cancer has no symptoms.
When symptoms are present, they usually do not appear until the cancer is more advanced. This does vary from woman to women.
Abnormal bleeding- Women with cervical cancer may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding. This can be heavy or light bleeding during the month.
Unusual heavy discharge- An increased vaginal discharge is also a symptom of cervical cancer. It may be foul smelling, watery, thick, or contain mucus. It varies from woman to woman. It is important to report any unusual vaginal discharge to your doctor.
Pelvic pain-Pelvic pain that is not related to the normal menstrual cycle can be a cervical cancer symptom. Many women describe them ranging from a dull ache to sharp pains that can last hours. It can be mild or severe.
Pain during urination- Bladder pain or pain during urination can be a symptom of advanced cervical cancer. This cervical cancer symptom usually occurs when cancer has spread to the bladder.
Bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, douching, or pelvic exam- Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or pelvic exam can be cervical cancer symptoms. This is due to the irritation of the cervix during these activities.
Please keep in mind that these cervical cancer symptoms are also symptoms of many other illnesses. If you are experiencing these cervical cancer symptoms, please see a doctor. He or she will most likely do a pelvic exam and may order further tests.
Benign lesions in the cervix, precancer and cancer in early stages, can be easy identify by doing a simple procedure called PAP SMEAR. If the pap smear reading tell us that there is some changes, it may be necessary to perform Colposcopy, available at Alexandra Hospital in Nevis and at a private facility in St Kitts. We may need to perform a biopsy. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, we decide the treatment.
If we treat premalignant lesions, it will not turn into cancer. If the cancer is at an early stage, you may need variety of surgeries that can be performed in the Federation. If the cancer is advanced, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and brachitherapy is needed. These treatments are done overseas although some chemotherapy can be done locally.
High expenses mixed with anxiety of being far from home, our families and friends are difficult to deal with for anyone.
WE CAN PREVENT CERVICAL CANCER!!
I am pleading all females to use the services available in the Federation. Only a small percentage of females are using these services at this time. Because of the great importance of prevention, pap smears are FREE OF COST at the health centers in the federation. The nurses are doing an amazing job! There are several doctors in St. Kitts and Nevis who offer the service in the private sector. For your yearly gynecological exam there are 6 Gynecologist on St. Kitts and 2 on Nevis. If you prefer to travel overseas, please feel free to but GET TESTED!
Pap smear it may be uncomfortable, but it is not painful. It only takes 5 minutes. Those 5 minutes can SAVE YOUR LIFE!
This year will be a year of unity. I love the theme used for World Cancer day “Together is possible”. Definitely only together as a nation we can succeed in our battle against cancer and in any battle!!!
In these 9 years of working on Nevis, I witness with delight that female health is a priority issue of the government.
I praise the efforts of NGO’s such Pink Lily, 4 Women by Women Productions, The Nevis Maternal Health Fund, Voices of Women and others, in creating awareness, facilitating free cancer screening, raising funds for treatment of patients locally and overseas. I thank the individuals and entities who are helping us in our efforts to contribute to the community.
The Nevis Maternal Health Fund and J&J Medical Services offered 50 free full gynecological exams and Pap smear in 2010 and 70 in 2011.
We are happy to announce another 50 for the month of May, 2012. We would like to test ladies who have never been fully examined or tested; ladies that are experiencing unexplained bleeding after sexual intercourse, as well as ladies who have not have a pap smear in 5 years or more.
Dear women, take care of yourself, contact your nearest health center or the doctor of your choice. Get tested today!!
Let’s keep on working together as our brother’s and sister’s keepers. God bless this wonderful Federation of St Kitts and Nevis.
Dr. Jessica Bardales-Essien (Consultant Gynecologist, Founder of the Nevis Maternal Health Fund) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health