More women may actually be at risk of contracting cervical cancer than you think. According to Dr. Elong Felix Adolph, obstetrician and gynecologist at the Regional Hospital Annex Buea Cameroon, an estimated five hundred thousand cases are discovered worldwide each year with half of this number ‘destined to die’. This form of cancer which attacks the lower third of the uterus, accounts for 22% of gynecological cancers with about 75% of its victims requesting medical attention very late. After a chat with Dr. Elong, I realized that every girl or woman who practices unprotected sex is at risk of developing cervical cancer. I gathered these facts for you and me. What causes cervical Cancer? The major causative agent is the Human Papilloma Virus which is sexually transmitted. This is why women and girls who have never had sexual contact have never been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Girls who smoke, begin sexual activity before the age of seventeen, have multiple partners, bear children early and have a history of sexually transmitted diseases are at a higher risk. Lesions resulting from the above activities are capable of maturing into frank cancer. Symptoms At the beginning it is completely symptomless and only a laboratory test (a cervical smear) can detect it. Those with visible growths in the uterus have theirs confirmed by a biopsy. In the more advanced stage the patient will complain of post coital bleeding (bleeding after sex), recurrent abnormal vaginal discharge, pelvic pains, bowel and urinary problems. The peak of manifestation is from the age of 40. Before this age, the pre-cancerous lesions gradually mature to a full virus if the situation is not arrested. The evolution ranges from 10 to 13 years. Women in their 40s and 50s may start presenting symptoms when they actually contracted the virus a decade earlier. Vaccine? There is a vaccine only for young girls who are not yet sexually active. The vaccine is not yet common and is considered expensive to ordinary households in Cameroon. Early detection remains the key. A patient who is already suffering from metastasis cannot be completely treated unlike a patient with a localized tumor. Women, do your Pap Smear! Medics say the very first Pap smear should be done before the age of 25 and be repeated six months after to confirm in case the result is negative. The test can then be done yearly for three years and subsequently every three years. The same procedure applies for women above 25 years and who are already sexually active.