• During this awareness month, a number of facilities may be offering to screen women for cervical cancer.
• Two to three days before the test, it is advisable not to engage in sexual activities
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers among women.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is the fourth most common cancer among women, globally.
“An estimated 570,000 new cases were reported in 2018. Nearly 90 per cent of the 311,000 deaths worldwide in 2018 occurred in low and middle-income countries,” said WHO.
January is Cervical Cancer awareness month the world over.
As it is with all cancers, the best way to protect yourself is by being vigilant.
Vigilance here means you get regular screening for cervical cancer and you consult a reproductive health doctor or a gynaecologist (OBGYN) whenever you feel that your reproductive health has changed.
The test that screens for cervical cancer is a Pap Smear test.
You can get a pap smear at a health care facility so you can know whether you are at risk of getting cancer.
I had the test for the first time in 2021 and the experience was not so bad.
The doctor gave me a few tips in case I wished to get another one in 2022.
Here's how to prepare for a Pap Smear test:
1. Know the appropriate age to get tested.
For example, how old do you need to be to get screened for cervical cancer?
The WHO says that women from the ages of 21 to 30 should get a pap smear test at least once every year.
But, there is a Cervical Cancer vaccine that the Ministry of Health gives out to young girls aged nine to 14 years.
The consent of a guardian is, however, required to get the vaccine and more information can be provided at your local health facility.
2. Ask whether your local health care facility is screening.
During this awareness month, a number of facilities may be offering to screen women for cervical cancer.
Do a survey around your area and find out if they are screening.
Keep an ear out for any information by the Ministry of Health on any civic education campaigns they may be running as well.
3. Be ready for a little discomfort.
If you have ever gone to a gynaecologist, you know it can get a little uncomfortable.
The pap smear is done by collecting a swab cell sample from your cervix, which is then screened for any cancerous cells or for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which sometimes leads to cancer.
The doctor uses a metal tool called a speculum to open up the vagina so the cervix can be seen. It is not as horrific as it sounds, trust me.
4. Stay away from sex and tampons days before the test.
But before that, make sure you are not on your period, for obvious reasons.
Two to three days before the test, it is advisable not to engage in sexual activities or insert things into your vaginal area such as sanitary tampons.
This, I was informed, will ensure the cells in your cervix are unchanged or undisturbed.
Do not be anxious about what the test results may reveal.
In case the tests come back abnormal, showing that your cells have signs of being cancerous, then it is easier for you to get treatment.
Remember, the whole point of getting the test was to create prevention and early treatment measures just in case.
Your doctor will give guidance on what other measures you may take.