REGULAR CERVICAL CANCER SCREENING: A SPECIALIST SURGEON’S INSIGHT
Having breast cancer does not put you at a higher risk of getting cervical cancer, nor does having one cancer omit you from developing another unrelated cancer. For that reason, it is of utmost importance for anyone with a cervix to undergo regular cervical cancer screening. This is according to specialist surgeon, Dr Fatima Hoosain of Apffelstaedt, Hoosain & Associates.
As with any type of cancer, early diagnosis of cervical cancer may result in less aggressive treatment and increase the chances of cure and thus increase the chances of survival. But Dr Hoosain reveals that many women who consult with her for breast cancer screening have confirmed that they either don’t do cervical cancer screening or are rather irregular about it. This is despite the fact that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting South African women (after breast cancer).
The complete lack of or irregular screening for cervical cancer can be attributed to a myriad of reasons. However, the most common reasons, according to Dr Hoosain, are age-related, as post a certain age, there seems to be less of a focus on cervical health. Fear, as well as a lack of awareness of the need for cervical cancer screening, are also major contributing factors.
Below, Dr Hoosain addresses some of the most important facts about cervical cancer screening.
What causes cervical cancer?
Infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses that can infect cells on the surface of the skin and those lining the genitals, anus, mouth and throat.
Infection with HPV is common, and in most people, the body can clear the infection by itself. Sometimes, however, the infection does not go away completely and becomes chronic. Chronic infection, especially when it is caused by certain high-risk HPV types, can eventually cause certain cancers, such as cervical cancer. It is important to note that acute and chronic forms of HPV infection can be completely asymptomatic. That means that you may not even be aware that you carry the virus.
Cervical cancer may also run in some families. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are slightly higher than if no one in the family has had it. Some researchers suspect that some rare instances of this familial tendency are caused by an inherited condition that makes some women less able to fight off HPV infection than others.
At what age should cervical screening be started and how regularly should it be done?
The current international guidelines suggest that cervical cancer screening be started at age 25. The guidelines suggest that a test be done for HPV and that this test can be repeated every 5 years until the age of 65. The guidelines suggest that a good alternative to this is to do a Pap test (pap-smear) every 3 years.
Is there a difference between a pap smear and cervical screening?
A part of the screening for cervical cancer is to do a pap smear. Complete screening involves the clinical evaluation of the cervix itself for any mass lesions.
How is the cervical cancer screening done?
A speculum is inserted into the vagina to allow for adequate visualisation of the cervix. Then, a brush is inserted via the vagina up to the cervix to collect cells from the cervix. The sample is then sent to a lab, where the cells can be checked to see if they are infected with the types of HPV that cause cancer (an HPV test) or the cells are evaluated under a microscope to see if they are normal i.e., the pap smear.
BIOGRAPHY – DR FATIMA HOOSAIN
Dr Fatima Hoosain is a specialist surgeon who enjoys all aspects of General Surgery, with a particular interest in breast and thyroid health. This includes surgery for breast, thyroid and soft tissue tumours.
Dr Hoosain graduated with an MBChB from the University of Stellenbosch in 2009, subsequently specialised in General Surgery and qualified with an FCS (SA) and MMed (Surg) in 2019. She has been involved in the publication of several journal articles.
Dr Hoosain is also a member of the Breast Interest Group of South Africa (BIGOSA), the Association of Surgeons of South Africa (ASSA), the Surgical Research Society of South Africa (SRS) and the South African Colorectal Society.
Basic Life Support- 2011
Advanced Cardiac Life Support- 2011
Advanced Trauma Life Support- 2011
Basic Surgical Skills- 2011
Definitive Surgical Trauma Care Course- 2017
Several laparoscopic skills courses between 2015 and 2019
Several breast health courses between 2010 and 2019