By Yusra Naseer
According to a WHO study, cervical cancer kills almost 20 women daily in our country and yet it remains one of those diseases that are rarely discussed in our society. Just like breast cancer, this disease is a taboo subject in our society and most people just try to change the topic if the disease is ever mentioned in a gathering. In my opinion, over the years the taboo associated with breast cancer has diminished to some extent and people are now starting to talk about it in Pakistan but cervical cancer continues to be ignored.
This is an alarming observation given the fact that globally Pakistan ranks 7th in the list of 50 countries where the disease is endemic. The US based Cervical Cancer Global Crisis Card states that 12 women out of every 100,000 die from the disease in Pakistan and the annual number of fatalities is above 7,000. These statistics give a clear picture of the graveness of the issue.
I would like to confess that I was also one of those who felt uncomfortable at the mention of this disease and never discussed it. However, an year back I was faced with a tragedy that changed my perspective completely. A childhood friend of mine whom I was very close with was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I remember how she felt so ashamed at getting the disease and used to lie about the type of cancer she has. It was very painful to see her suffering and knowing the fact that it could have been prevented was even more devastating. It was the time i realized just how important it is to make people aware about the disease and to discuss it in our society.. I often meet people who claim that most people are aware about the disease but don’t talk about it due to our culture. I don’t agree with this at all.
First of all, most people don’t even know what cervical cancer actually is. Last week, I met a female friend who thought that this form of cancer was found in both males and females. This says a lot about the awareness among people regarding this deadly disease. Hence, the purpose of this blog is to spread awareness which is the first step in trying to control it.
What is cervical cancer?
The neck of the womb is called cervix. It is a strong muscle and connects the vagina to the womb. Hence, this clears the misconception that males can also have this cancer. As males do not have the cervix they cannot suffer from the disease.
The cervix is covered in a layer of cells on its surface and when these cells become cancerous it gives rise to cervical cancer. Mostly the cervical cells are found to become cancerous in the transformation zone. This terminology is used to refer to the area around the opening of the cervix that is connected to the womb through a narrow passage.
What causes cervical cancer?
The HPV virus is considered to be a major cause of cervical cancer. The HPV virus can be transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact. This means that if a male has the HPV virus then he can infect his female partner with it. This should clear another misconception that this disease is only found among promiscuous women and prostitutes. A woman can get infected with the virus after marriage from her husband.
Research has shown that while it’s not necessary for a woman with the HPV virus to develop cervical cancer, it does make the risk extremely high. In many cases, the body’s resistance system is able to fight off the virus but if it is not completely eradicated then over a few years it gives rise to cervical cancer.
How can it be prevented?
Vaccination is the foremost prevention against this form of cancer. The HPV vaccine has been proven to have an effectiveness of almost 92%. The vaccination process is pretty simple and the female is administered two shots over a period of a few months.
It’s about time that we shed the taboo associated with this deadly disease and start talking about it to protect our women. In Pakistan, most people consider Saudi Arabia to be the supreme authority on Islam and I would like to mention that it is compulsory for females to get vaccinated against HPV in that country. Hence, people who term the vaccine UN-Islamic need to end their hypocrisy.