by MSD in the Philippines
In 2020, cervical cancer in the Philippines was the second most diagnosed cancer type in women after breast cancer. 1 It has remained in the top five most frequent cancers among Filipino women within a five-year prevalence period. 1 Cervical cancer also constituted about 4.4% of cancer- related deaths in the country in 2020.1 On a larger scale, this disease has a global mortality rate of about 7.9% per 100,000.1
This malignancy forms in the cervix, the uterus’ lower region that connects to the vagina, when normal cells start to change.2 These cells follow a mutation process where they first become pre- cancerous and then grow abnormally to turn cancerous.2 These growths form on the cervix’s surface and may spread to nearby tissue and other body parts.2 Without immediate and proper treatment, they may develop into a mass or tumor. 2
How Do I Know If I Have Cervical Cancer?
Some patients might not show Cervical cancer symptoms2, but others may experience the following:
- Pain in the pelvis or pain during intercourse.2
- Vaginal bleeding during or after intercourse.2
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause.2
- Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods.2
- Bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods.2
- Unusual vaginal discharge (watery, bloody, or heavy, and with a foul odor).2
It is important to note that these symptoms may also indicate the presence of other diseases or less serious conditions2, which is why patients must consult with a doctor to get a proper and accurate diagnosis.
Risk Factors and the Role of HPV in Cervical Cancer
Women who smoke, have multiple sex partners, and have a history of cervical dysplasia or abnormal cell growth are at an increased risk of developing the disease, as well as those with a compromised immune system.2
Perhaps the most significant risk factor for developing cervical cancer is persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, usually over a 10 to 20-year period.2 This virus is a sexually transmitted group of over 150 viruses and accounts for most cervical cancer cases.2 HPV infections are spread during oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse.2 Besides cervical cancer, HPV can also cause malignancy in the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (throat, tongue, and tonsils). 2
However, just because HPV is known to cause cervical cancers, it does not guarantee that an HPV- infected person will undoubtedly develop the malignancy.3 A healthy individual’s immune system can typically control HPV infections2, and while this virus is common3, few men and women are likely to experience its progression into cancer3.
There are ways to reduce one’s chances of contracting HPV.2 If a person is infected with the virus, they must consult with their doctor for proper and immediate diagnosis and treatment.
Preventative Measures Against the Malignancy
Women can lower their risk of developing cervical cancer by diligently following screening guidelines and speaking with their doctor about HPV vaccination if they are eligible.2 The disease’s progression is also preventable by treating abnormal cervical tissue early.3
Cervical cancer screening in the Philippines via a Papanicolaou (Pap) test every three years is recommended for women aged 21 to 65.2,3 Meanwhile, a combined method using Pap smear and HPV testing every five years is recommended for those aged 30 to 65 years.2,3 Receiving an HPV vaccine also helps protect individuals against cervical cancer and other cancers caused by the virus.2
Other precautions women can take include:
- Limiting the number of sexual partners.2
- Using a condom.2
- Implementing lifestyle changes such as avoiding smoking.2
Common Myths Surrounding Cervical Cancer
Myths associated with cancer are dangerous as they can delay diagnosis and the administration of proper and immediate treatment. For example, some people believe they do not need screening because cervical cancer does not run in the family.3 But, as mentioned earlier, cervical cancer may result from certain types of HPV and other causes.2 An absence or lack of family history of this malignancy should not be used as its predictor3 and should not be used as an excuse to avoid screening.3
Meanwhile, some individuals skip screening because they do not show cervical cancer symptoms3 Contrarily, screening tests are typically conducted to determine abnormalities in a healthy individual who is not experiencing symptoms.3 If symptoms are present, the patient will need a diagnostic test to identify the possible causes.3
Another misconception surrounding cervical cancer is that individuals no longer need screening because the disease cannot be treated anyway.3 In reality, screening for cervical cancer helps prevent its progression.3 This process determines abnormal cells located on the cervix in order to treat them before they mutate into cancer.3
According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer is among the most successfully treatable types of cancer.2 Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.2
Cervical cancer is among the most frequently diagnosed cancer types among Filipino women.1 When detected early, it can be managed and treated.2 Ideally, if women experience symptoms of cervical cancer or if they belong to the high-risk list, they must get screened as soon as possible.2
Moreover, believing in myths and spreading misconceptions about cervical cancer hinder the patient from being diagnosed earlier and receiving proper and immediate treatment.3 It is imperative that individuals get the correct information regarding the disease by consulting only with medical professionals or learning through reputable sources.
These efforts may provide cervical cancer patients with longer survivorship and improved quality of life.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (2020). The Global Cancer Observatory Philippine Fact Sheets. Retrieved from Globocan: https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/populations/608-philippines-fact-sheets.pdf. Last Accessed November 10, 2021.
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America (September 2021). Top questions about cervical cancer. Retrieved from CancerCenter: https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/cervical- cancer/questions. Last Accessed November 10, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Get the Facts: 3 Myths about Cervical Cancer Screening. Retrieved from CDC: https://blogs.cdc.gov/cancer/2018/01/09/3-myths- about-cervical-cancer-screening/. Last Accessed November 10, 2021.