Power Over Cervical Cancer: You Can and You Will

By Mommy Donna and Kib - June 15, 2016

Seriously, I am scared of getting sick.

I always pray to God to always give me good health so that I will be able to take care of my son.  Yes, I still get sick, I am only human, and I believe that this is God's way of telling me to take things slow.  I am thankful for having a son who can also take care of me during the times that I cannot fulfill my mommy duties.  

One of the illnesses that I dread the most is the big C--cancer.  I have known a lot of people who have suffered and died from this illness.  Cancer is not just a personal battle; it is also a family battle because it really hurts to see a family member in pain.  

For women, the most dreaded type of cancer is breast cancer, next is cervical cancer.  Every day, seven Filipino women die of cervical cancer.  Cervical cancer is a kind of cancer that puts every woman at risk, regardless of race, age, lifestyle, or socio-economic status.

Cervical cancer continues  be a major threat to every Filipino women.  In addition, two of three Filipinas diagnosed with cervical cancer may die within five years.  Culturally, Filipinas are known to be caring and selfless for others but tend to dismiss concerns about themselves, so those who may have contracted cervical cancer may have been diagnosed at a late stage, when the chances of recovery are very slim.  

Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop and spread in the cervix, the entrance between the vagina and the uterus.  This is caused by persistent infection with the cancer causing human papilloma virus (HPV).  It has been shown that 99.7% of cervical cancer patients are positive for HPV infection.

HPV is a very common virus.  It is estimated that up to 80% of women will be infected with the HPV at some point in their lifetime.  Majority of the HPV infections may come and go, some may clear spontaneously within two years, however, if the immune system is weak, the HPV infections may persist and may eventually lead to the development of cervical cancer.

While HPV is primarily transmitted via sexual intercourse, skin-to-skin genital contact is also a recognized mode of transmission.  Penetrative intercourse is not necessary to become infected of HPV.  In addition, condom usage may not adequately protect individuals from exposure to HPV.  

Moreover, lifestyle changes can help prevent the development of cervical cancer, such as being conscientious about one's sexual activities.  Beyond regular consultations and pap smears by your OB-GYN, vaccines that protect against cancer-causing HPV are now readily available in the market.

Who is at risk?

 The incidence of cancer-causing HPV infection is actually highest for teenagers ages 15-19.  With the changing culture, young females are now engaging in premarital sex at a young age.  One is at a greater risk of cervical cancer if one had her first sexual intercourse at a young age, have given birth for multiple times have or have had sexually transmitted diseases, have HIV or whose immune system is weakened, a smoker, long term user of oral contraceptives (at least five years or more), and those who rarely or have not yet had any pap smear.

The World Health Organization Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (WHO-SAGE) on Immunization reiterates the importance of getting young girls protected through HPV immunization before their first exposure to HPV (i.e. before sexual contact), as young as 9 years old.

On the other hand, for older women, the risk of persistent infection with cancer-causing HPV (which is necessary for cervical cancer to develop) increases with age, and is at the highest when a woman is over 66 years old.  With this, cervical cancer screening is recommended to start at the age of 21.  

Therefore, all women are at risk of getting cervical cancer.

Stages of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer has no signs and symptoms in its early stages.  In the event that symptoms will occur, the following may be expected: irregular bleeding between periods or abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse, back leg or pelvic pain, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, vaginal discomfort or odorous discharge, and a single swollen leg.  There may be other conditions that would present with vaginal bleeding, therefore it is best to consult a doctor when any of these symptoms appear.

In addition, progressive development of the cellular changes from HPV infection to cervical cancer generally takes 10-20years; in some cases it may only take 1-2 years.

Stage 1:  Cancer is found in the cervix only

Stage 2:  Cancer has spread beyond the uterus but not onto the pelvic wall

Stage 3:  Cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina and/or onto the pelvic wall, and/or has caused kidney problems

Stage 4:  Cancer has spread beyond the pelvis, or can be seen in the lining of the bladder and/or rectum, or has spread to other parts of the body.

Cervical cancer treatments

After cervical cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the cervix or to other parts of the body.

Following are the available treatments for cervical cancer:

  • Chemotherapy:  Its often given in cycles, uses anti-cancer drugs, injected into a vein 
  • Cryosurgery:  Freezing that destroys tissue
  • LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure):  The removal of cervical tissue using a hot wire loop
  • Surgical Conization:  Surgery with a scalpel, a laser, or both to remove a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal
  • Laser Vaporization Conization:  Use of laser to destroy cervical tissue

Can cervical cancer be prevented?

Yes!  The World Health Organization recommends the following interventions to prevent cervical cancer:

  • Screening: Visit your doctor for a pap test.  Current guideline recommend that women should have a pap test every three years beginning at age 21
  • HPV Vaccination:  Please take note that vaccination is not a substitute for regular consultation and work-up with your doctor.  Always remember to always ask your doctor about the efficacy, safety, and duration of protection of the available HPV vaccines in the market.
These two interventions should work hand-in-hand as this will provide optimal protection against cervical cancer.

In commemoration of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, research based-pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) furthers its advocacy to increase cervical cancer awareness efforts with the Power Over Cervical Cancer "You Can and You Will" campaign.

The campaign aims to encourage Filipinas to realize that they have the power to protect themselves and their dreams--simply by consulting their doctors and asking about ways to prevent cervical cancer.  

Check out the photos during the event:
Bloggers answering a survey about cervical cancer

The panelists (Abbygale Arenas-de Leon, Rose Manzano, and Andi Manzano-Reyes) shares their experiences on battling cervical cancer

Rose Manzano, Andi Manzano-Reyes, and Abbygale Arenas-de Leon posing for the press showing their letters to their future selves

This painting was made on the spot during the event and it has a hidden message which can only be seen when the lights are off 

I will also write a letter to my future self

In the Philippines, it is estimated that the financial cost of preventing cervical cancer through screening and vaccination could be 20 times more affordable than the cost of treatment.

GSK remains true to its commitment of increasing access to preventative healthcare through its initiatives to improve access to information through its disease awareness efforts.

Now, it is still up to you, my dear readers, if you will get vaccinated against HPV after reading my blog.  While WHO recommends getting vaccinated, it is still a choice for each and every female.  It is always the best to consult a doctor and not self-medicate and live a healthy lifestyle.  Of course, the best way to prevent illnesses too is to always pray to God to give us good health.

To know more about cervical cancer, visit the Power Over Cervical Cancer page on Facebook and the Pangarap Mo, Protektado channel on YouTube.  Both sites contain information and short films conveying how protecting oneself against vaccine-preventable diseases is one important step in the achievement of one's dreams. 

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