Fighting cervical cancer together

HPV: Why you should get tested

15 January 2021 | Health

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. Most sexually active women and men will be infected at some point in their lives and some may be repeatedly infected.
HPV is sexually transmitted, but penetrative sex is not required for transmission. Skin-to-skin genital contact is a well-recognized mode of transmission.
HPV infections usually clear up without any intervention within a few months after acquisition.
A small proportion of infections with certain types of HPV (HPV 16 & HPV 18 most commonly) can persist and progress to cervical cancer, especially with recurring infection and suppressed immune system (HIV+ individuals).
Cervical cancer is by far the most common HPV-related disease. Nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be attributable to HPV infection.
The infection with certain HPV types also causes a proportion of cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis and oropharynx, which are preventable using similar primary prevention strategies as those for cervical cancer.

Why test?
Cervical cancer screening involves testing for pre-cancer and cancer among women who have no symptoms and may feel perfectly healthy.
Traditionally a “Pap smear” or “Pap test” was conducted (most commonly known to women in Namibia), however advances in screening today allows for women with access to alternative screening methods as mentioned below.
When screening detects pre-cancerous lesions, these can easily be treated and cancer can be avoided. Screening can also detect cancer at an early stage and treatment has a high potential for cure.
Because pre-cancerous lesions take many years to develop, screening is recommended for every sexually active woman from age 25 and regularly afterwards (frequency depends on the screening test used).
For women living with HIV who are sexually active, screening should be done earlier, as soon as they know their HIV status. Screening has to be linked to access to treatment and management of positive screening tests. Screening without proper management is not ethical.

Screening types
There are three different types of screening tests that are currently recommended by WHO and are available in Namibia:
1. HPV testing for high-risk HPV types is a bit more costly and primarily used with medical aid and private clients;
2. Visual inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) that is now primarily conducted by the Ministry of Health and Social Services in lower income settings;
3. Conventional (Pap) test and liquid-based cytology (LBC) are commonly still used in the wider setting (also with CAN).
Results and further treatment (if necessary) will be guided by the Cancer Association of Namibia’s medical team once results are given (or by your regular preferred medical service provider).

Warning signs
• Blood spots or light bleeding between or following a period.
• Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual.
• Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination.
• Increased vaginal discharge.
• Pain during sexual intercourse.
• Bleeding after menopause.
• Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain.

Where can I go for screening?
Visit your nearest Ministry of Health and Social Service clinic or health centre for screening or advisory where to go, or contact the Cancer Association of Namibia to visit their regular clinics or be part of the National Cancer Outreach Programme of CAN when they visit your town or region once a year.
See your private doctor (GP) or gynaecologist for a screening or referral.
Remember that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable, treatable and most curable cancer forms if detected early. Let’s take stance in 2021 and save Namibian women from this disease!

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