By Chioma Obinna
FOR just N21,000, a woman can be saved the agony of cervical cancer, which is currently the 2nd biggest killer cancer of women in Nigeria after breast cancer. The sum in question is the cost of obtaining the cervical cancer vaccine that offers life-long protection against the disorder, which affects an estimated 15,000 women in Nigeria.
Disclosing this in Lagos, a Consultant Clinical & Radiation Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Dr Omolola Salako, remarked that vaccination is currently the only foolproof protection against the Human Papiloma Virus, HPV, that is responsible for cervical cancer.
Salako stressed the need for women to embrace regular screening as it is the easiest and cheapest way of prevention. “Every sexually active woman is at risk of contracting HPV and should adopt the habit of going for regular screening in order to detect the virus early,” she opined.
Salako who is also Executive Director, Sebeccly Cancer Care and Support Centre, explained that under its 1K Cervix Campaign, the Centre will be screening more than 1000 women in Lagos. “It takes only N7,000 to get a Pap smear test once in five years and N21, 000 to get vaccinated for life. But when the infection has been allowed to grow into full blown cancer, one is not even sure of curing it with N500,000,” she noted.
Salako spoke during an interactive session organised by Sebeccly Cancer Care and Support Centre, in collaboration with the Health Writers’ Association of Nigeria, HEWAN. At the forum, tagged, “Meet Health Writers”, about 50 women including female HEWAN members were screened for breast and cervical cancers as part of the campaign to reduce cervical and breast cancer among Nigerian women. Breast and cervical cancers are the most common leading cancers in Nigerian women, and the world at large.
Also speaking at the event which coincided with the monthly forum of the HEWAN, a Consultant Gynaecologist and lecturer at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, CMUL, Dr. Kehinde Okunade said about 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer are recorded and out of which about 300,000 die annually in Nigeria.
He said 14,550 women are down with cervical cancer every year out of which 9,659 die. Okunade, in his lecture, maintained that cervical cancer is the easiest cancer to prevent through periodic screening with up to 75 per cent accuracy. On the ease of prevention, it takes between 10 and 15 years for one cancer cell on the neck of the cervix to develop and this window period is when doctors capitalise on to pick women and treat them.
Okunade said that if the cells are allowed to grow fully into cancer, the only option to treat it is surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which all comes with various challenges.
Cervical cancer is caused by the HPV and out of every four women, three will be infected. To lower cervical cancer risk, Okunade urged women to reduce the number of sex partners, choose partners with few sex partners, and avoid smoking as it increases the potential of cells to become cancerous.
Women should also keep a healthy diet, use condoms consistently and correctly during sexual activities, get screened (Pap smear) and get vaccinated at 9-26 years of age with HPV vaccine especially before they begin to have sex.