Cervical Cancer in South Africa

Cervical cancer is a growing problem in South Africa and may be increasing due to the widespread practice of unprotected sex. In a large number of cases of cervical cancer, a virus known as the human papilloma virus (HPV) plays a significant role in the development of this cancer. While cervical cancer is most often seen in women around the age of 30 years, the increasing trend of teen sex may predispose younger women, possibly in their early 20’s to develop cervical cancer.

Causes of Cervical Cancer

A cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells that forms masses (tumours or ‘growths’). In cervical cancer, the cervix of the uterus is affected which is the area between the vagina and uterus. While most cases of cervical cancer are due to HPV (human papilloma virus), this does not mean that every case of HPV infection in women will lead to cervical cancer. HPV can cause genital warts or the infection can pass unnoticed.

Other risk factors that may contribute to the development of cervical cancer include :

  • Long term use of contraceptives and other related drugs like fertility drugs.
  • Smoking
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Family history of cervical cancer
  • Chlamydia infection
  • Possible dietary and lifestyle factors
  • Many sexual partners and unprotected sex

Types of Cervical Cancer

There are two main types of cervical cancer :

  1. Squamous cell carcinomas which account for most of the cases of cervical cancer.
  2. Adenocarcinomas

Both types of cervical cancer will cause similar symptoms and can be equally devastating.

Signs & Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina – not related to periods or after sex.
  • Pain during sex
  • Watery discharge with signs of blood

Cervical cancer may continue for long periods of time with no signs and symptoms.  Therefore it is important that regular testing is conducted to diagnose early cases of cervical cancer.

Testing & Prevention of Cervical Cancer

A regular pap smear is important to identify cervical cancer and women who are sexually active should undergo regular testing, at least once a year, even in the early 20’s. Prevention of cervical cancer would involve behaviour that reduces your exposure to the risk factor. Condom use during sex and limiting the number of sexual partners are important factors to prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is a growing problem in most nations and is not isolated to South Africa. However, given the incidence of HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancies in South Africa, unprotected sex is a widespread practice that can predispose women to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can be life threatening and should be taken seriously.


  1. Cervical Cancer. National Cancer Institute