The Greater Accra Regional Hospital, formerly the Ridge Hospital, has begun a month-long free cervical cancer screening for sexually active women between the ages of 21 and 45.
The gesture forms part of efforts by the hospital to raise public awareness of the condition, which its officials say is preventable and treatable if detected early, but from which over 2,000 lives are lost annually in the country.
Speaking to the media on the exercise, the Principal Nursing Officer at the Reproductive Health Unit of the hospital, Ms Doris Agyei, said the emphasis on sexually active people was because the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, was transmitted sexually.
She said the hospital was ready to screen any number of women from the target age group and encouraged the public to take advantage of the offer, describing it as the hospital’s corporate social responsibility to the public.
All the same, she said, females below 25 and above 45 could walk in to be screened at a fee.
Ms Agyei explained that the hospital was targeting that specific age group because at that age they had a blossoming cervix, which could facilitate one of the fastest and simplest diagnostic procedures known as the Visual Inspection of the cervix with Acetic Acid application (VIA).
“Once a woman passes the age of 45, the cervix looks like folded lips or lips pushed in and so it becomes difficult to do the VIA or apply the acetic acid, and so in this instance the papanicolaou (Pap) smear is the required diagnostic procedure,” she said.
However, she said, every female who was sexually active, irrespective of age, could undergo the Pap smear if she wanted to.
She said females who had not had sexual intercourse and were nine years and above could skip the screening for a straight vaccination to ensure life-long protection.
Ms Agyei said the mortality rate among cervical cancer patients was high because most of the cases were realised at an advanced stage, nearing hopeless, since most women often wanted to see symptoms before going for medical attention.
She said at the treatable stages, cervical cancer did not present any symptoms.
However, she said once infected, the virus could stay in the host for about 15 years before symptoms would show, by which time the condition would have reached a very advanced stage that could only be managed but not treated.
She said the chances of survival for a cervical cancer patient when the disease had reached the advanced stage were less than 50 per cent.
Ms Agyei mentioned the symptoms of cervical cancer as offensive discharge from the vagina, blood flow after normal menstrual period and during or after sexual intercourse, bleeding in women in their menopausal age, prolonged back pain, loss of weight, among others.
Throwing more light on the condition, she said cervical cancer developed in a woman’s cervix, which is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.
She said the best way to stand protected from cervical cancer was to screen for it, get vaccinated and avoid multiple sexual partners.