Women play an important role in our families and society. They are our mothers and sisters who nurture children and homes. When women who are in their most productive years get sick, the entire family is affected not only economically but also emotionally and psychologically.
Cervical cancer is one of the world’s deadliest cancers in women, claiming the lives of about 270,000 each year, 85% of which are from developing countries, according to the World Health Organization. It commonly affects women who are in their productive years — aged 30 and above. In the Philippines, 12 Filipinas die of this disease each day, as per government data.
It is disheartening that our women could have protection and assurance to longer and quality health if the cancer is detected in its early stage, since cervical cancer is highly preventable. Health authorities say that with early diagnosis and proper treatment, the success rate of those affected with cervical cancer is at ninety percent.
This month, health institutions and women around the world observe the Cervical Cancer Prevention Awareness Month. Let all of us be informed on how we can save ourselves, and the women in our lives from this deadly disease.
Cervical cancer affects the entrance to the uterus or the womb, often referred to as the neck of the uterus. Cancer cells grow in the cervix due to different risk factors, but the highest risk, accounting for 90%, is caused by the affected by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted. At high risk are those who had/have multiple partners and those who had first sexual contact at early age. Since HPV is sexually transmitted, it is important to note that a woman can acquire HPV even if she only had one sexual partner.
But having cervical cancer does not mean that a woman acquired this through sexual practices, there are other risk factors such as smoking, giving birth at a young age, several pregnancies and a weak immune system. Studies also cite long term use of contraceptive pills, long-term mental stress and genetic factors.
Cervical cancer is asymptomatic in the initial stage, which means the woman may not feel any symptoms during its development which may take 10 to 15 years. Symptoms for the developed stages include persistent pain in the pelvic area, painful intercourse, abnormal vaginal discharge,
Defense against cervical cancer
WHO strongly advises women, 21 years and above, particularly those who have engaged in sexual intercourse at an early age to undergo annual pap smear and cervical cancer screenings once in 3 to 5 years. The screening is done through VIA (visual inspection using acetic acid). Acetic acid will be applied to the cervix and will be then observed for changes such as appearance of pre-cancer lesions.
As protection, the WHO recommends women to be vaccinated against HPV. There are different types of HPV vaccine which can be given to females as early as 9 years old.
The Department of Health has a program of vaccinating Grade 4 female pupils aged 9 to 13, the age bracket where the HPV vaccine is considered most effective because girls at this age are not yet sexually active. The DOH also provided free HPV screenings as part of its prevention awareness campaign.
Eating healthy can also greatly reduce the risk of the disease. According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), consumption of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants reduces the risk of cervical cancer.
Researchers found that women with HPV induced lesions (seen at the initial stage) who consumed more antioxidants reduced their chances of developing cancer. These particular beneficial antioxidants are α-carotene, found in pumpkins and carrots, and ß- cryptoxanthin, which is found in pumpkin, sweet red peppers, and papaya.