Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: What you need to know

Did you know that all women, regardless of age, race, and lifestyle, are at risk of cervical cancer? But did you also know that it is highly preventable and curable?

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus transmitted through sexual activities. The probability of a woman acquiring the virus in her lifetime is at 75-80%; however, the virus does not always develop into cancer. Smoking, having multiple sexual partners, early sexual activity, long-term use of oral contraception, a weak immune system, and the history of cervical cancer within the family increase the risk of the virus developing into cancer.

The symptoms of the disease in its late stages include vaginal bleeding beyond the menstruation period, unpleasant vaginal discharge, and abdominal pain or swelling.

How do I prevent cervical cancer?

Despite being one of the most preventable and curable types of cancer, the Philippines loses about 3,800 women to cervical cancer yearly. The key to cervical cancer prevention is early detection. It was only in 2003 when the campaign for cervical cancer awareness and prevention was strengthened. Through Proclamation no. 368, May was declared the official cervical cancer awareness month. The campaign eventually carried the slogan “Babae, Mahalaga ka,” which encouraged Filipinas to get checked regularly through free cervical cancer screenings. When detected in its early stage, cervical cancer is still curable.

Several methods can be used for screenings such as the VIA (visual inspection using acetic acid) and pap smear. According to a study by the University of the Philippines- Department of Health Cervical Cancer Screening Health Operations Research Project, the VIA was found to be the most effective and cost-effective screening method. For preventative measures, HPV vaccines are available and may be given to patients as young as 9 years old. The effect of the vaccine lasts a lifetime and has been proven to be safe for all.

Despite these alternatives, cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancers among Filipinas.

Several studies have been done about the cervical cancer in the Philippines and may be found in the Health Research and Development Information Network (HERDIN) such as the “Epidemiology, prevention and treatment of cervical cancer in the Philippines,” “Delineation of an appropriate and replicable cervical cancer screening program for Filipino women,” and “Knowledge and attitudes of female students on Pap Smear for diagnosis of cervical cancer, Cebu Institute of Medicine SY 2013-2014.” Aside from studies on cervical cancer, HERDIN has an array of more than 50,000 studies in other areas of health. HERDIN is an electronic database of both published and unpublished studies related to health research.