Wake Up, Philippines!

The scary truth about cervical cancer

Posted in Diseases/Disabilities, Health by Erineus on May 20, 2009

By Lai S. Reyes Updated May 19, 2009 12:00 AM

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Dr. Rey delos Reyes, SGOP president: “Cervical cancer continues to be a big problem worldwide because there is still lack of awareness and access to screening or treatment of pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix.”

MANILA, Philippines – It’s a silent killer that takes the lives of 274,000 women worldwide every year. What’s strange is that the carriers of the disease don’t even know they have it until it’s too late.

Touted as the second most common cancer in women, cervical cancer is a deadly disease that affects women 35 to 55 years old.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer have been diagnosed this year and about 274,000 will succumb to the disease annually. Sadly, most of these deaths occur in less developed countries such as the Philippines.

“Cervical cancer continues to be a big problem worldwide because there is still lack of access to screening or treatment of pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix,” explains Dr. Rey delos Reyes, president, Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of the Philippines (SGOP).

In observance of the Cervical Cancer Awareness Month this May, Dr. Delos Reyes recently conducted an informative lecture on cervical cancer at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ortigas. With the theme “Babae, Mahalaga Ka! Iwasan ang Cervical Cancer, Magpa-screening Na!,” the event was aimed at educating women about their health, cervical cancer, cervical cancer screening and prevention, and to encourage positive action among those who are at risk of the disease.

According to Dr. Delos Reyes, cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), some of which are also responsible for causing genital warts, vulvar (area outside the vagina) cancer, and vaginal cancer.

“HPV infection is a common infection and spreads mainly through direct genital contact. While most HPV infections clear on their own, there are types that can cause HPV, cervical cancer, vaginal and vulvar cancer, and genital warts,” he explains.

Genital HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). In fact, there are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of men and women, including the skin of the penis, vulva, anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, and rectum.

“You can’t see HPV. Those who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it,” notes Dr. Delos Reyes.

Warts The Matter?

Most people with HPV don’t develop symptoms or health problems. But sometimes, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts in men and women. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.

“HPV types are often referred to as ‘low-risk’ (wart-causing) or ‘high-risk’ (cancer-causing) based on whether they put a person at risk for cancer. In 90 percent of cases, the body’s immune system clears the HPV infection naturally within two years. This is true for both high-risk and low-risk types,” explains Dr. Delos Reyes.

Genital warts usually appear as small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. Warts may appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected person. Or they may not appear at all.

A CDC fact sheet released by the Department of Health and Human Services USA states that genital warts, if left untreated, may go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number. They will not turn into cancer. However, HPV can cause normal cells on infected skin or mucous membranes to turn abnormal.

If the high-risk HPV infection is not cleared by the immune system, it can linger for many years and turn abnormal cells into cancer over time.

“About 10 percent of women with high-risk HPV on their cervix will develop long-lasting HPV infections that put them at risk for cervical cancer,” further explains Dr. Delos Reyes.

Cancer Warriors Unite

In 2005, the Philippine Cancer Facts and Estimates showed that cervical cancer ranks fifth in the list of 10 leading causes of cancer deaths for both sexes and second in the 10 leading cancer sites among females. Every year, an estimated 6,000 women in the country are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,349 die of the disease. Approximately, 12 women die each day of cervical cancer and about five out of 10 women afflicted with this cancer will die within five years.

Alarmed by the statistics, the Department of Health and institutions like Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS), the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of the Philippines (SGOP), and Cancer Resource and Wellness (Carewell) Community will conduct a day of free cervical cancer screening on Friday, May 22 for females aged 15 to 45 years old in selected DOH-retained hospitals in Metro Manila, La Union, Pangasinan, Cebu, and Davao

“Women aged 15 to 45 years old should avail themselves of the free screening because with early detection, the chances of treatment success are higher. The best way to detect cervical cancer is through a regular Pap smear to determine pre-cancer lesions,” says Dr. Honorata Catibog, director, National Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The free screening slated on May 22 will be provided in the following selected DOH hospitals in Metro Manila: Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, East Avenue Medical Center, Tondo Medical Center, Quirino Memorial Medical Center, Amang Rodriguez Medical Center, Rizal Medical Center, Las Piñas Medical Center, Valenzuela General Hospital, and Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital.

It is also available in DOH regional hospitals and medical centers such as Region 1 Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, and Davao Medical Center.

Patients found positive in the screening will be referred for treatment. Information materials and support activities will likewise be available to cancer patients to assist them in their recovery.

Prevention Is Key

Cervical cancer develops due to the following risk factors: HPV, many sexual partners, smoking, multiple pregnancies, and having a family history of cervical cancer, among others.

“Even women with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV if her partner has had prior sexual partners,” stresses Dr. Delos Reyes. “Cervical cancer in its early stage doesn’t have a particular clinical manifestation. There’s just the foul-smelling vaginal discharge, which most women attribute only to infection.”

Other symptoms are bleeding and spotting between menstrual periods that are longer and heavier than usual, unusual discharge from the vagina which may contain blood and occur between menstrual periods or after menopause, and pain during sex.

“Due to lack of awareness and knowledge about cervical cancer, most of the patients are diagnosed at the late stage of the disease. Most of them are already in their third and fourth stage,” relates Dr. Delos Reyes.

There are important steps females can take to prevent cervical cancer. A vaccine can now protect them from the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers and genital warts. The vaccine is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women aged 13 to 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.

Even women who got the vaccine when they were younger need regular cervical cancer screening because the vaccine does not protect against all cervical cancers.

“Cervical cancer can also be prevented with routine cervical cancer screening and follow-up of abnormal results. A Pap smear test can identify abnormal or pre-cancerous cells. Listen to your body. Huwag ipagwalang bahala ang mga sintomas. Cervical cancer, if detected early and treated properly, is preventable and curable,” stresses Dr. Delos Reyes.

* * *

For inquiries about cervical cancer and HPV, visit www.mahalagaka.com and hpv.com.ph.
View previous articles from this author.

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