Debunking Myths and Misconceptions about Cervical Cancer

The article authors; Nakyomu Damalie (L) and Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima (R)

Recently, while contributing to the cervical cancer awareness month of January by sharing daily sensitization messages about cervical cancer on all social platforms, one of the ladies said “Cervical Cancer is for only women with many sexual partners, so, for us with only one partner, we are safe”.

Another lady added, “I think cervical cancer runs in the family, and us who don’t have it in our family, we are safe so no need to get screened”. 

As midwives, we watched from a distance and saw the conversations flow in the various groups. However, we noted that the community has a wide range of thoughts, myths, misconceptions and beliefs about cervical cancer.  On 04th Feb 2024, we commemorated World Cancer Day with a global initiative to raise awareness about various forms of cancer.

Here, we collectively stood in solidarity with those battling the cancer disease and acknowledged its impact on individuals, families and communities. It is thus very crucial that we spotlight and give a clarifying lens towards specific challenges such as myths and misconceptions surrounding cervical cancer which continue to influence perceptions and impact preventive measures.

Hence, in this article, we will debunk common myths and give clarity on the misconceptions that usually cause stigma among women and the community at large.

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Myth 1: Presence of cervical cancer can only be detected when symptoms start to manifest.
FACT: Contrary to popular belief, the presence of cervical cancer is not solely indicated by symptoms. Cervical cancer often develops silently in its early stages showing no noticeable symptoms. 

Myth 2: Having a limited number of sexual partners eliminates the risk of cervical cancer.
FACT: The misconception that having few sexual partners eliminates the risk of cervical cancer is inaccurate and misleading. While the number of sexual partners can influence the risk of getting HPV the primary cause of cervical cancer, it only takes one sexual partner with the virus to increase the risk of infection.

Myth 3: I am past my childbearing age and no longer sexually active, so I am not at risk for cervical cancer.
FACT: Age and sexual activity are not exclusive factors when it comes to cervical cancer risk. The risk of cervical cancer increases with age and reaching the post-childbearing age or being sexually inactive doesn’t eliminate the risk of getting cervical cancer as it is associated with persistent infection of high-risk strains of HPV.

Myth 4: Cervical cancer screening instruments used are very painful
FACT: Contrary to the misconception, cervical cancer screening procedures are generally well tolerated and are designed to cause minimal discomfort. While it is possible to experience some discomfort during the screening process, it is essential to prioritize regular screening for early detection and prevention.

Myth 5: The cause of cervical cancer is unknown, and there are no drugs currently in circulation for its treatment.
FACT: Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). Effective preventive measures include HPV vaccination, and various treatment options such as; radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery for managing cervical cancer.

Myths 6: I do not want to get.
FACT: Screening helps to identify any precancers in the cervix. When precancers are treated promptly, this can prevent cervical cancer in the future. Women who avoid getting screened periodically usually miss the opportunity to detect any abnormality at an early stage, when treatment is most effective.

Once cervical cancer develops, the treatment is long and expensive and sometimes may not be completely effective over time. Hence, there is nothing to fear from screening. Prevention is better than cure, and screening with prompt treatment (when required) will help save your life.

Myths 7: Cervical cancer is contagious.
FACT: Cervical cancer is not contagious. It is caused by long-standing HPV infection, which is common among men and women. This does not mean that someone coming into close contact with a patient with cervical cancer will develop cervical cancer. No cancer type is contagious. screened, because if I have cervical cancer it cannot be treated.

Myths 8: HPV vaccination means you do not need screening at a later stage
FACT: HPV vaccination at the recommended age during adolescence can prevent cervical cancer. However, the vaccine protects only against the most common types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Some women may develop cervical cancer caused by infections with the HPV types that are not targeted by the vaccine. Hence, women in the recommended age group should get screened. If the test results show any abnormality, appropriate management can be done.

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We wish to see a generation where everyone in the community can rightfully access the right information about cervical cancer, its detection, treatment and prevention. Together, we can fight against Cervical Cancer.

The author are; Nakyomu Damalie, a graduate Midwife working with Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative, &
– Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima; a BSc Nurse and MSN-Midwife and Women’s Health Specialist

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