Preventable and Life-Saving, Yet Deadly if Not Prevented – Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer originating from the cervix. It is the leading cause of death for women in developing countries. Worldwide, it is the third most common malignancy in women. Seventy-five percent of cervical cancer in the world is caused by Human Papillomavirus Type 16 and 18 while Type 31 and 45 causes another 10%. Among the risks factors associated with increasing the risk of cervical cancer include cigarette smoking, long-term use of oral contraceptives and multiple pregnancies. Back then when there was no vaccine for this cancer, it was lethal.

Cervical cancer in its early stage may be completely free of symptoms. Later on, symptoms that are suggestive of cervical cancer may manifest such as pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding and pain during sexual intercourse. Advance course of this disease may bring about constitutional symptoms such as fatigue, back pain, loss of weight, loss of appetite, heavy vaginal bleeding, leg pain, pelvic pain, bone fractures, and rarely, leakage of urine or feces from the vagina.

Today, screening of this disease has been made easy with Pap smear or better known as ‘Papanicolaou’ test. Ever since its introduction as a screening test, it has drastically reduced the number of cases of mortality from cervical cancer. However, Pap smear screening has to be done every 3-5 years with regular follow-up for it to be useful. Successful screening every 3-5 years reduces cervical cancer incidence up to almost 80%.

In conjunction to screening, vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus is equally as important as screening as a means of prevention. Two types of Human Papilloma Virus vaccines are available currently, namely, ‘Gardasil’ and ‘Cervarix’.  ‘Gardasil’ covers for 4 types of Human Papilloma Virus, reducing the risk of precancerous or cancerous changes of the perineum and cervix by about 93% while ‘Cervarix’ covers only 2 types of Human Papilloma Virus, lowering the risk by 62%. Other methods of prevention include barrier protection methods during sexual intercourse and supplementary nutrition such as Vitamin A, B12, C, E, and also beta-carotene.

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