MPUMALANGA – Women like Glander Mhlongo (48), misinformed about cervical cancer, believe only women living with HIV can contract cervical cancer and therefore risk ignoring the early signs and warnings.
Early last year Mhlongo started getting sick and developed the early signs of cervical cancer. She experienced pain, was urinating more frequently and did not know what was wrong.
“Instead of going to the clinic or doctor for a check-up, I spoke to my friends and ended up making a foolish decision to do nothing. And that led to me having my womb removed. Instead of being checked by a doctor in time, I bought over the counter medicines to treat myself after deciding that I just had menopause. But I carried on getting sicker,” she said.
Mhlongo was really ill by the time she went to her local clinic where she was sent to the hospital for further tests which included a Pap smear test. It was then that she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Nurse Maria Khoza said a Pap smear test is an important part of a woman’s routine healthcare. It is done to find any abnormalities that may lead to cancer of the cervix. When detected, these abnormalities can be treated before cancer develops. Most cancers of the cervix can be prevented if women have Pap smear tests regularly. Also, as with many types of cancer, cancer of the cervix is more likely to be treated successfully if it is detected early.
According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for cervical cancer include: having many sexual partners; early sexual activity; other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS; a weak immune system and smoking.
A Pap smear test can be done in a doctor’s consulting room, a clinic or a hospital. The doctor or nurse will put a small wooden spatula (flat blade) into the vagina and scrape off some cells from the cervix. It is not painful. These cells are then sent to the laboratory for examination.
Pap smear tests can be requested at any clinic or hospital.
Because Mhlongo took a long time to seek health professional help, cancer had already spread and she had to have a hysterectomy.
Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the type of cancer and how far it has spread. It also depends on the age of the woman, and if she still wants to have children.
“It’s not true that only HIV positive women can get cervical cancer. My advice to all women is that they must immediately seek professional help when they start getting sick or noticing the symptoms of cervical cancer. A Pap smear test should be all women’s routine health care,” said Khoza.
An edited version of this story was published by Health24.