By Faith Lawino and Beryl Okendo.
A visit to the cervical cancer screening room would be the best decision of a lifetime. This is one thing Eucabeth Orodo wished she did earlier.
Elizabeth (not her real name), believed that it was her menses all over again. She grimly remembers her last period which she had like five years ago. Unbelievable! Eucabeth is 51 years of age and for her, she is in her menopause years, how possible is it that she bleeds once again? It is science, or maybe wonders of the world that she has to use sanitary towels after such a long time. Little does this middle-aged woman, only at 51, aware that she had developed cervical cancer. Hers is of vaginal bleeding after menopause which is one of the signs of cervical cancer.
The Kisumu’s first lady Mama Dorothy Nyong’o and other first ladies from the LRED have been advocating for periodic screening for early action. January is dedicated to raising awareness of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix- the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. This type of cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44 with an average age at diagnosis being 50. Cervical cancer has proven to be the second cause of mortality deaths in Kenya and soars higher every year, not only in the country but also worldwide. These increased mortality rates occur due to late diagnosis of cervical cancer as well as a lack of knowledge of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer hence lots of women tend to ignore these signs.
It is without ado that the Kenyan government decided to carry out sensitization programs to create awareness of cervical cancer, reduce its spread as well as end cervical cancer deaths. The program is done nationwide to include the county government of Kisumu which has different initiatives that encourage early cancer screening among women and the administration of the Human papillomavirus ( HPV) vaccine among teenage girls. One health organization that does free cervical cancer screening is the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH).
JOOTRH offers free cervical cancer screening services to any woman or teenage girl who would wish to be served. The screening room has hospitable nurses and doctors, their kind faces and words of wisdom and encouragement, a sweet gesture of hospitality. The screening department in collaboration with the family planning method works hand-in-hand to ensure that women who visit the hospital including those seeking family planning services are screened.
Currently, JOOTRH is offering free cervical cancer to women in room 16, a project that is being supported by the International Cancer Institute.
Nurse Mrs. Wilbroda Atiba, stationed at the Family planning department does the cervical cancer screening process. She advises women who visit to receive family planning services to also get screened. She says that no one is ever forced to undergo cervical cancer screening, individuals have the free will to decide whether to have the screened or not.
Nurse Atiba explains the different kinds of screening that they do which include the VIA, VILI, and HPV tests. VIA is a visual examination of the uterine cervix after the application of 3-5% acetic acid. If the cervical epithelium contains an abnormal load of cellular proteins, the acetic acid coagulates the proteins conferring an opaque and white aspect of the concerned area. A precancerous lesion has higher protein content when compared to normal epithelium.
VILI is a visual examination generally performed after the VIA test and requires the application of Lugol’s iodine, a compound that reacts with glycogen resulting in brown or black coloration. The normal mature squamous epithelium contains glycogen. When in contact with Lugol’s iodine it becomes black, whereas precancerous lesions and cancer contain little or no glycogen thus turning yellow after Lugol application. Such a reaction is considered to be “VILI positive.” HPV tests identify the presence of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is at the origin of cervical cancer. These tests also check for infections that might affect the reproductive system such as cervicitis and many more. Pregnant mothers are also encouraged to screen three months after delivery to prevent any cervical cancer cases. Apart from HPV as the main cause of cervical cancer, Nurse Atiba says that having multiple sexual partners may increase the chances of one acquiring the Human Papilloma Virus.
She accords that at least three new patients are diagnosed with cervical cancer each month, which is why one needs to know the symptoms of cervical cancer. “There is a lack of cervical cancer awareness, especially in communities where modes of communication and sensitization are low,” says Atiba. This is because most of these cancer patients are elderly women who have no idea of these symptoms. Women aged 50 and above hold a higher percentage of cervical cancer disease.
Other signs of cervical cancer may include; prolonged bleeding, vaginal bleeding after menopause, pelvic pain or pain during sex, vaginal bleeding between periods or periods that are heavier or longer than normal, and vaginal discharge that is watery and has a strong odor or that contains blood among others.
Cervical cancer is treatable if it is detected early. This helps in the elimination of the precancerous cells or lesions that might have started to develop in the cervical wall. Everyone hence is encouraged to go for regular cancer screening to prevent developing cancer cells and if any are detected, they can be eliminated before things get out of hand
JOOTRH stands out to provide quality services to its patients, not the only issue of cervical cancer but any health issues. It also provides breast cancer screening and prostate cancer for men. The hospital does sensitization programs to create awareness of cervical, breast, and prostate cancer within Kisumu County and its environs.
The effort requires resources to manage such undertakings but sometimes there is a lack thereof. Some of the equipment is lacking at times including the speculum due to the large number of patients who visit the facility for cervical cancer screening.
These patients include those who come voluntarily for the screening process and others who are referred for the screening by doctors. Cervical cancer is a menace that can be defeated through early cancer detection and screening. It is the time of the month for cervical cancer awareness which aims to provide more information on cervical cancer, as well as pass a message across to all populations, on the importance of early screening. Early detection and screening of cervical cancer, equals zero new cases and deaths.