12 Cervical Cancer Myths vs Facts

Cervical cancer is the 2nd most frequent cancer among women in Malaysia but do you know it is highly preventable? Let us debunk some myths and facts surrounding this HPV-linked cancer.

by Calvyn Ee

A Summary of Cervical Cancer in Malaysia

Cervical cancer starts when cells in the cervix, which connects the vagina (or birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus (or womb), rapidly and uncontrollably multiply.

As of 2021, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting women in Malaysia; it is also the second most frequent cancer that affects women between the age of 15 to 44.

A person contracts cervical cancer due to a long-term infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that is usually transmitted from one person to another via sexual activity or even skin-to-skin contact. HPV is a common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) with over 30 different strains that can affect a human’s genitals. While many persons who are sexually active are at risk of having HPV, only a very small number of them will eventually be diagnosed with cervical cancer.

The best way to treat cervical cancer promptly is to detect it early via cervical screenings. Early vaccination with the HPV vaccine also improves a person’s odds in the long term. However, despite a growing awareness of the nature of cervical cancer, some segments of society continue to carry on the myths and misconceptions about cervical cancer, especially with regard to persons diagnosed with it.

Stigma Towards Survivors

A woman feeling humiliated

Much of the stigma towards cervical cancer survivors stems from the association of the HPV virus with sexual activity. For most people, the assumption is that having HPV is a sure sign of promiscuity and/or infidelity. As a result, women are at risk of being shunned or abused by others should the nature of their illness be known. 

Many women may refuse to go for cervical screening, even if they are not actually at risk of developing the condition, all because the association of a screening automatically puts them in a “shameful” position.

Much of the stigma directed toward survivors stems from a lack of awareness and understanding of cervical cancer. In fact, the biggest obstacle to preventing cervical cancer comes from women refusing to undergo early screenings, mainly because of the longstanding prejudices towards cervical cancer survivors, as well as the possibility of other factors – such as sexual abuse – that are not brought to light. It does not help that a routine question asked when a person is diagnosed with cervical cancer is “How
many sexual partners have you had?”


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It is therefore critical to improving society’s awareness of cervical cancer in order to do away with the stigmatisation that has occurred for so long. Programs such as medical literacy campaigns are but a few ways to tackle the root of the problem head-on, and the Ministry of Health has developed an action plan in 2021 to help provide “greater equity and accessibility to cervical cancer prevention, treatment and care” while also “addressing the impediments to the path towards the elimination of cervical cancer” in the country.

Dr. Faiz from MAKNA – Majlis Kanser Nasional shared about cervical cancer, its effect on fertility, and prevention in this Homage Web Series. Check it out!

Myths and Facts about Cervical Cancer

Having said that, we at Homage are also committed to helping spread the word about the importance of early cervical screenings and how to combat deep-rooted misconceptions about the disease.

Myth 1: Having HPV Guarantees a Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

Fact: Not true

Doctor explains on the uterus condition
There are many different types of HPV, but not all of them cause cervical cancer. In some cases, your immune system can get rid of the virus within one to two years or so. 80 to 90 per cent of women will not suffer any long-term complications. Other than that, the HPV virus may persist and become dormant, lingering in a person’s body for some time before it starts causing cells in the cervix to multiply uncontrollably.

For the most part, changes caused by HPV happen without you realising it until you get screened. If left untreated, these changes can eventually cause cervical cancer.

Myth 2: Cervical Cancer is Inherited

Fact: Not true

Mom and daughter holding hands

Unlike breast or ovarian cancer, cervical cancer is not hereditary. It is caused primarily by the HPV virus. Early screenings and HPV vaccinations for children are the best ways to prevent the disease from occurring/advancing.

Myth 3: Only Women with Multiple Partners Get Cervical Cancer

Fact: Not true

A woman with a partner
This particularly long-lived myth has been a strong source of stigmatisation towards survivors. The main cause of cervical cancer is HPV, which can still spread to a person even if they only have one partner or are not very sexually active. As long as the HPV persists in the body for a long time, it can eventually progress the abnormalities in the cervix into cervical cancer.

Safe sex does protect you from the risk of contracting HPV, but any unprotected skin can still allow HPV to transmit itself to another person (since the virus spreads from skin-to-skin contact).

Myth 4: No Screenings Needed for Those Who are Vaccinated/Not Sexually Active

Fact: Not true

Getting vaccinated as a prevention
Those with HPV may not show any symptoms (asymptomatic cases), making it difficult to tell if a person is at risk of cervical cancer or not. Through cervical screening, doctors can look for signs or markers of any abnormalities in your cervix, and take the necessary action to prevent it from spreading or mitigating whatever damage it has caused to the body.

Despite the HPV vaccine proving effective at protecting young girls from HPV, regular screenings are still recommended, especially as the vaccine does not protect you from all forms of HPV. It’s also important to remember that not all HPVs cause cancer. Regardless, a woman can still be at risk of contracting a cancer-causing type of HPV before receiving the vaccine.

Myth 5: Cervical Cancer Cannot Be Prevented

Fact: Not true

A doctor making prevention sign
Early cervical screenings and HPV vaccinations are the most effective ways of prevention, either detecting an HPV infection before it can progress into cervical cancer or preventing it at an early age. HPV may cause some complications that can be addressed with medication but can be prevented through the HPV vaccine.

Myth 6: Cervical Screenings are Painful

Fact: Not true

Kit for pap smear test

A cervical screening’s purpose is to find any precancerous cell changes in the cervix. It involves a test to look for any HPV infections or a Pap test (also called a Pap smear) that takes a sample of cervical cells to look for signs that could lead to cervical cancer; in some cases, a co-test involving both tests may be done.

The screening involves the use of a device called a speculum, which a doctor will use to gently open your vagina to inspect the cervix. A soft, narrow brush or a spatula-like instrument may be used to collect cellular samples, which are sent to the lab for testing. When the speculum is used, some women may experience some discomfort. If you feel any pain, be sure to let the accompanying nurse (or the doctor) know and they will do what they can to help ease the pain; if need be, they will use a smaller speculum.

The procedure only takes up to 30 seconds to complete, and you’ll be notified every step of the way about what they are doing to help alleviate any concerns you might have. You can also request to stop the procedure if you feel uncomfortable or are experiencing any pain.

As part of its mission, the ROSE Foundation has introduced a do-it-yourself screening test that only takes five minutes to complete. This self-test is a simple, convenient procedure you can do on your own with minimal fuss and no pain, and you’ll be able to get the results within three weeks.

Myth 7: Cervical Screenings Also Detect Other Cancers

Fact: Not true

Doctor consulting a female patient
1 in 5 people mistakenly believe that a cervical screening detects ovarian cancer or other types of STIs. The reality is that cervical screenings are preventive tools to detect abnormal cellular changes in the cervix at an early stage that could cause cervical cancer.

Myth 8: Cervical Screenings Protect Women from Cervical Cancer

Fact: Partly true

Cervical cancer awareness
Cervical screenings are an effective method to reduce a person’s risk of cervical cancer. It’s important to note that you can take steps to greatly reduce the risk of cervical cancer, but preventing HPV infections is not as easy. Vaccines do protect you from HPV, but not from all types of high-risk HPVs.

You can consider cervical screenings and HPV vaccination as the first line of defence against cervical cancer.

Myth 9: Cervical Cancer Survivors Cannot Get Pregnant

Fact: Not true

Woman in pregnancy

HPV infections can potentially complicate a pregnancy, but it does not affect a person’s ability to conceive. If, however, there is a need to remove abnormal cells in the cervix, that could affect your ability to conceive or reach a full term in your pregnancy. Again, this does not cause infertility.

Myth 10: Cervical Cancer Causes Symptoms

Fact: Not true

Woman fear of cervical cancer symptoms
In a majority of cases, people with an HPV infection do not show any signs or symptoms, and the infection will go away on its own after some time. Even if it develops into cervical cancer, you may not have any symptoms at all until the disease advances. It is why early screenings are very important to prevent cervical cancer: the earlier you get screened, the earlier doctors can detect signs of cervical cancer and take the necessary course of action to treat it before it worsens.

Myth 11: Cervical Screenings are Needed Every Year

Fact: Partly true

Cervical screening to look for symptoms
The frequency of screenings depends on a few factors, such as your a
ge, your health condition, and whether you’ve previously had an HPV infection. However, you don’t necessarily need to go for a screening every year. If you are at higher risk of contracting HPV, you may need more frequent screenings as set by your doctor. But even if you don’t fall into the high-risk category, regular screenings are still recommended.

Myth 12: Cervical Cancer Only Happens in Less Developed Countries

Fact: Not true

Less developed country and cancer
HPV infections and cervical cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, affluence, social standing, or education level.

First Steps to Taking Care of Your Cervical Health

It becomes essential for women to take good care of their cervical health. Again, we cannot understate how important both the HPV vaccination and early cervical screenings can be in protecting you and your loved ones from cervical cancer. Even if the vaccination does not provide comprehensive coverage against all types of HPV, it nevertheless protects you and your loved ones from the most common types of HPV which causes cervical cancer. Any level of protection is still necessary for long-term prevention.

Awareness is also very important to ensure that fewer women get cervical cancer later in life. With January being Cervical Health Awareness Month, this is the perfect time to raise awareness about HPV and cervical cancer. Each and every person plays a role in debunking myths that only serve to prevent women from getting life-saving early screenings and vaccinations. As long as these myths continue to perpetuate stigmas toward cervical cancer survivors, it will be difficult to achieve the elimination of cervical cancer in the country. Better health literacy can go a long way toward helping women take better care of their cervical health while also contributing to the elimination of cervical cancer in time.

Health Tips for your Cervix

Health Tips for your Cervix Homage

Beyond early screenings and vaccination, what else can you do to take care of your cervix? Sometimes, even simple steps and lifestyle modifications can go a long way to safeguarding your cervix’s health.

Things you can do include:

  • Practise safe sex: Using a condom during sexual activity helps to lower the risk of getting or spreading HPV.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners: You can still be at higher risk of contracting HPV.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking is a known risk factor that can cause cervical cancer; smokers are twice as likely to get cervical cancer compared to non-smokers.
  • Get tested for STIs: STIs also may not cause symptoms, so regular screenings can be helpful to prevent any future risk of cervical cancer. If you are worried that you or your partner may have an STI, or if you did not practise safe sex, consider getting screened immediately.
  • Follow-up appointments: Be sure not to miss these, as follow-up procedures can be beneficial in catching warning signs early before it gets serious. Make sure to follow the doctor’s advice and ask questions if you need clarification on anything.

About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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