Cervix Cancer: Preventable Through Detection

Why were there almost 500 cases of cervical cancer in Jamaica in year 2000? Why were there over 200 deaths of cervical cancer in Jamaica in year 2000?*

In Jamaica and the Caribbean, women are dying from one of the most easily preventable, detectable and treatable cancers. This is due largely in part to women not getting screened regularly.

Cervical cancer develops in the wall of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb). The normal cells in the cervical wall may gradually undergo changes, becoming abnormal. These abnormal cells are called precancerous and may become cancerous.

The most common risk factor of cervical cancer is exposure the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is sexually transmitted and appears in dozens of varieties. (Some HPVs are responsible for genital warts) One little problem with HPV infections is that they often are asymptomatic (do not have visible signs and symptoms), thus going for long periods without being detected.

Other risk factors include :

  • Multiple sexual partners or having sex with someone who has had multiple sexual partners
  • Sexual intercourse at a young age
  • Smoking
  • Age – women over 40 are at an increased risk.
  • Race – blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are at a higher risk
  • Being HIV positive, which weakens the immune system’s ability to fight infection
  • Not being screened regular.
  • Regular Pap smear screening effectively lowers the risk of cervical cancer.

The first sign of the condition is an abnormal Pap test (a part of an annual pelvic exam). Although cervical cancer is often asymptomatic, some of the following symptoms may appear:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • Low back pain
  • Pain during urination and sexual intercourse

Prevention is the most important tool in the fight against cervical cancer, which is best achieved by getting a regular Pap test.

Why are women not getting their regular tests?

  • Lack of knowledge about Pap smears and it’s role as a recommended screening tool for cervical cancer.
  • Many women simply cannot afford to pay for screening. And when available, free programs are not accessible to women in the country areas.
  • Women are more likely to put work and family responsibilities above her own health needs. Example, if money is available for a doctor visit, it may be spent on another family member rather than the mother’s visit to the doctor.
  • Low perception of risk of developing cervical cancer – the “I am not at risk” syndrome
    Fear or results, embarrassment and lack of support
  • Women need to be more proactive about their own health. Don’t believe that after the birth of your last baby, you don’t need to visit the gynecologist anymore. Women need to become more involved and learn all they can about Pap Smears and cervical cancer.

The Jamaican Cancer Society has a Mobile Pap Smear Screening Programme. Call them for information at 927-4265 or visit their website

Cervical cancer is preventable, so get screened!

Questions to ask your doctor?

1. What is my risk for developing cervical cancer?
2. How can I reduce my risk?
3. If I have cervical cancer, how will it be treated?
4. Can cervical cancer be cured?
5. What is a Pap smear
6. What I can I do before a Pap smear to make sure the results are accurate?
7. How often should I get a pap smear?

To learn more about cervical cancer, including information about treatment and detection, visit CancerBACUP.

* The last year statistics were available for this disease