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Early sexual activity, smoking, others increase the risk of cervical cancer – experts



Early sexual activity, smoking, others increase the risk of cervical cancer – experts
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Medical experts said Human Papillomavirus infection, early sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, smoking, and immune system deficiency are risk factors for cervical cancer.

They made this known Tuesday during a Zoom meeting organised by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Nigeria in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Programme for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria, and the GirlsAct.

The experts, who spoke on the theme, ‘Understanding Cervical Cancer and Its Intersection with HIV,’ urged women to ensure regular cervical cancer screening as a sure way of early detection and successful treatment.

Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the uterus from the vagina).

According to the World Health Organisation, almost all cervical cancer cases (99 percent) are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses, a common virus transmitted through sexual contact.

“Although most infections with HPV resolve spontaneously and cause no symptoms, persistent infection can cause cervical cancer in women. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women,” WHO said.

The United Nations said cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Nigeria and the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women aged between 15 and 44 years.

In 2020, the latest year for which data is available, Nigeria recorded 12,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths from cervical cancer.

READ ALSO: NGO conducts free breast, cervical cancer screening across Nigeria

Speaking during the meeting, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme Advisor with the JHPIEGO, Dr George Ikaraoha said, “The factors contributing to cervical cancer development are Human Papillomavirus infection, early sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, smoking, and immune system deficiency.”


Ikaraoha also said long-term use of oral contraceptives, having many children, socio-economic factors like lack of access to healthcare facilities, poverty, the inability of women and girls to afford healthcare services, lack of education, access to the right information, and cultural beliefs like stigma contribute to cervical cancer.

He advised that regular screening is crucial as it allows for the detection and treatment of precancerous conditions before they develop into cervical cancer.

Ikaraoha said, “Understanding the risk factors and adhering to recommended screening schedules, women can significantly reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer and improve their chances of successful treatment if cancer does occur.”

An Antiretroviral therapy Nurse at the AHF, Omoseke Bamijoko also harped on the importance of early diagnosis.

Bamijoko said cervical cancer can be treated if discovered early.

She said, “Women living with HIV are more prone to cervical cancer and as such should go for screening every three years, while others can be screened every five years.”

She urged women and girls to see a health professional when they see symptoms like unusual bleeding between periods, after menopause or after sexual intercourse, an increase in foul-smelling vaginal discharge, persistent pain in the back, leg, or pelvis, weight loss, fatigue loss of appetite, vaginal discomfort, and swelling in the legs, among others.

READ ALSO: Scientists discover ‘cure’ for cervical cancer

In their separate remarks, a senior nursing officer with AHF, Mrs Menakaya Atenchong, and Dr Lois Maji, a Programme Officer with IHVN advised young girls to get screened and vaccinated.

They noted that early detection would not only reduce the burden of cervical cancer in Nigeria but would also prevent genital warts and other genital growths in women and girls.

They also stated that social and economic determinants of the diseases should be addressed to reduce disparities in cervical cancer incidence and improve health outcomes for all women.

On his part, the AHF Nigeria Advocacy and Marketing Manager, Steve Aborisade said cervical cancer and HIV are significant public health issues that disproportionately affect women, particularly in resource-limited settings.

He said the meeting was organised to acquaint participants with information on the relationship between HIV and cervical cancer, discuss preventive measures, and share the latest research, and strategies for effective management and support.


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