According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, with an estimated 570,000 new cases identified in 2018.
To mark World Cancer Awareness Month in January, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is raising awareness of cervical cancer by both advising women how to protect themselves from the disease and increasing public understanding of the importance of prevention and early diagnosis.
A major cause of most cervical cancers is an infection called human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that is transmitted through sexual contact. Cervical cancer usually develops slowly, evolving over a number of years (10 to 15 years) during which time the cells in the cervix undergo changes. These changes can be detected by a pap smear, a procedure which checks for the presence of pre-cancerous and cancerous cells on the cervix.
The risk of cervical cancer can be lowered by having the HPV vaccine. It is recommended that the vaccine, which protects against several strains of human papillomavirus, is administered at age 13 years.
Symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal bleeding, such as bleeding between menstrual periods or after menopause, and discharge that is unusual in amount, color, consistency, or smell. Early cervical cancer (stage I) usually has no symptoms and is often only detected through a pap smear test.
Dr. Afaf Al Ansari, Senior Consultant Obstetrics/Gynecology at the Women’s Wellness Research Center (WWRC) and Clinical Lead for the Gynecological Oncology Multidisciplinary team says treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors, including the stage of cancer, the woman’s overall health, and the patients' treatment preferences. She says surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of the three, may be recommended.
“Cervical cancer in Qatar is the third most common gynecological cancer and represents 24 percent of all gynecological cancers. About 40 percent of all cervical cancers are diagnosed at stage II of the disease; at this stage, surgery is usually not a feasible treatment option,” said Dr. Al Ansari.
“It is important for women to know that cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular screening tests and appropriate follow-up care. These tests can help detect cancer as well as any changes that may lead to cancer,” added Dr. Al Ansari.
Dr. Al Ansari pointed out that women can reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer by getting the HPV vaccine early and being tested regularly, starting at age 21 years. She added that 90 percent of cervical cancer is treatable when diagnosed in its early stage, while cervical cancer which is diagnosed at a more advanced stage makes treatment much more difficult and normally has a far less favorable prognosis.
Screening tests (pap smears) are generally available at all Primary Health Care Corporation health centers and are free of charge for those with a valid health card. To make an appointment, visit or call your nearest health center. For more information on cervical cancer, follow HMC’s social media channels.