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Cervical Cancer

>> Tuesday, October 6, 2009

AT 28, radio deejay Rosalyn Lee (picture) thought she was in the pink of health. So, when she bumped into an old friend who insisted she went for a women's health check, Rosalyn initially waved off the advice.

"I was 28 years old then, healthy and normal. I did not see the immediate need to go for a health check," said Rosalyn, who eventually went for a medical check after her friend made an appointment for her.

Rosalyn's checkup revealed abnormal cells in her cervix - and she was just one stage away from full-blown cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer typically affects women in their 40s and 50s. But what many people don't know is that the disease starts off as pre-cancerous cell changes in the cervix, and they can be present for many years before they become cancerous, said Dr Quek Swee Chong, a senior consultant and head of the pre-invasive disease and screening unit and department of gynaecological oncology at KK Women's & Children's Hospital (KKH).

Every two days, one woman in Singapore is diagnosed with cervical cancer. Despite being a highly preventable disease, it is still one of the top cancer killers among women here. Doctors Today spoke to felt that there are many misconceptions surrounding the disease.

Contrary to common belief, cervical cancer is not a hereditary condition, said Dr Chris Ng, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at GynaeMD at Camden Medical Centre. In fact, 99 per cent of cases are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that afflicts up to 80 per cent of women who have been sexually active, he added.

For most people, the virus usually clears up on its own without causing any serious consequences. However, for some, these cancer-causing viruses persist and may result in pre-cancer cells in the cervix, explained Dr Quek.

Like many cancers, the disease creeps up on you insidiously. In the early and pre-cancer stages, doctors said there are often no warning signs.

"The most common signs are a bloody or watery vaginal discharge, bleeding after sexual intercourse or vaginal bleeding after menopause," said Dr Quek.

Other symptoms such as unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge and pain during sexual intercourse may also sometimes be mistaken for other gynaecological ailments, such as vaginal infection or dryness, added Dr Ng.

"But by the time these symptoms occur, it is often too late and the cancer would have become quite advanced. Therefore, it is important to have regular pap smears even if you feel completely well," advised Dr Quek.

After undergoing treatment, Rosalyn has recovered.

"I never thought that there was anything wrong with my health. If not for my friend who was persistent to get me to go for the health appointment, I would not have known what was life threateningly wrong with me," she said.

In Rosalyn's case, any chances of her contracting full-blown cervical cancer were nipped in the bud in time.

"Most abnormal pap smear results are because of some cell changes in the cervix which may be pre-cancerous. Appropriate and timely detection allows doctors to treat the pre-cancer and prevent cancer from ever occurring," said Dr Quek.

- TODAY Online. Oct 6, 2009.

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