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Sex Talk

How common is cervical cancer & is there a vaccination for it?

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng answers your sex questions

03 February 2019 - 00:00 By dr tlaleng mofokeng

Q: What is the vaccination for cervical cancer and is it a common cancer?
A: Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the sexually transmitted infection that plays a role in increasing the risk and causing most cervical cancer cases.
Because the virus survives for many years, this contributes to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.
There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the lower genital tract with HPV 16 and 18 being the two high-risk viruses that are responsible for approximately 70% of all cervical cancers worldwide and in SA.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include: vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause, a watery, bloody vaginal discharge and heavy pelvic pain or pain during penetration.
Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated in order to prevent cervical cancer. Most recommendations are that sexually active women begin routine pap tests from age 21 and repeat every year or every three years with the guidance of the health-care provider.
HPV vaccines are most effective in preventing cervical cancer if administered to individuals who have not previously been exposed to HPV. It is a series of injections over a few weeks and as HPV is sexually transmitted, the target population on which to focus has been young girls and boys who have not initiated sexual activity. Most guidelines recommend vaccination from age nine years and older, with 'catch-up' vaccination to include young women and men up to 26 years of age.
• Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng (MBChB), sexual and reproductive health practice, Disa Clinic, safersex.co.za.
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