What is Cervical Cancer?
It is a cancer that forms in tissues of the cervix -- the organ connecting the uterus and vagina. (National Cancer Institute)
- Squamous cell carcinoma – the common type, these cancers are from the squamous cells that cover the surface of the exocervix
- Adenocarcinoma – this type develops from the mucus-producing gland cells of the endocervix.
- Adenosquamous carcinomas – have features of both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas
The main cause is the human papillomavirus or HPV -- a common virus transmitted during sexual intercourse (genital to genital), finger to genital contact and finger to anal contact. HPV has around 100 types but 8 types has identified by scientists as responsible for more than 90% of cervical cancer cases worldwide.
Who are at risk?
Every woman is at risk of developing cervical cancer. There are estimated 50-80% women who may acquire HPV infection and the threat increase as women age. But the more prone ones are:
- Those who had sexual activity at an early age – near the first menstruation
- Those who don’t avail of regular screening
- Those who has more than 1 partner
- Those whose partner has many sexual partners
To answer the famous question, “Cervical cancer can’t be detected among virgins,” says Dr. Benjamin Cuenca, an OB-Gynecologist.
Signs and Symptoms
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Discharge with foul odor
- Lower back pain
- Painful urination
During the early stages, a woman may not feel anything unusual. However, consultation with the a OB-Gynecologist is recommended.
During the early stage of this disease, cancer tissues are removed through surgery. A radical hysterectomy is another option where the uterus is completely removed. If the cancer has reached Stage 2B, 3 and 4, that’s the time the patient undergoes chemotherapy or radio therapy.
This is still the most effective procedure to detect early signs of cancer. It is done between 10 to 20 days after the first day of menstruation.
At 21 to 29 years, a woman can undergo Pap smear or after 3 years of her first sexual activity, to be done yearly. For 30 years and above, they can do it every 2 to 3 years if the results of their 3 last Pap smear tests are normal.
“As early as 10 years old or before a girl has had her first intercourse and first encounter with the virus, I advise HPV vaccination, so that her body can already make antibodies in the event her body meets the HPV virus. Protection lasts for 20-50 years based on some studies,” says Dr. Cuenca.
Smoking and heavy drinking lowers the immune system of which make women prone to this virus. Monogamy, safe sex and use condom are highly advised.
Free Cervical Cancer Screening
The Department has declared the month of May as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. This dreaded disease ranks as the second leading cancer among women, and that 9 out of 10 cases occur in developing countries like the Philippines.
Based on the DOH records in 2010, the number of diagnosed diseases of the cervix had 1,984 cases. The highest incidence rate of cervical cancer was observed in Manila, Makati, Pasay, Pasig, and Taguig, while the lowest incidence was seen in Rizal.