(Written by: Francis Mangonon, MD) Cervical cancer, after breast cancer, is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. It devastates too many women’s lives around the world. About 500,000 cases of cervical cancer and 270,000 deaths occur each year. Research has established that cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with a very common virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV), whose presence is seen in 99.7% of all cervical cancers. HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection that 3 of 4 adults will have at some time in their lives. Most of these infections go away on their own without treatment. Infections that do not go away on their own can lead to cervical cancer. Almost all cervical cancers are now preventable through screening tests such as Pap smear, HPV tests and immunization programs with HPV vaccines.
A Pap smear test is the traditional method used for cervical cancer screening, it can identify abnormal cells. An HPV test identifies women who are infected with the 13 high-risk types of HPV that could potentially lead to cervical cancer. Clinical studies suggest that screening with both a Pap smear and an HPV test offers women aged 30 and older the best protection against cervical cancer, they help make sure abnormal cells are diagnosed and treated early.
Infection with the most common types of “genital” HPV can be prevented with the HPV vaccine, for girls and young women ages 9-45. However, vaccination is only fully effective if administered before a girl or young woman has been exposed to those types of HPV through sexual contact. In addition, the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer;this would mean that women who have been vaccinated still needs to be screened for protection against the HPV types that are not covered by the vaccine.
“Cervical cancer caused by HPV is a highly preventable disease and can be virtually eliminated” said Dr Roelen Cabalza, Obstetrician-Gynecologist/Sonologist, Healthway-SM The Block. Thus, it is important to have a regular Pap smear test and if they are 30 or older, an HPV test. They should also get the HPV vaccine for themselves and for their daughters.
In the Philippines and United States alike, a coalition of women’s health advocacy groups, policymakers, healthcare providers and others has been working hand-in-hand in promoting awareness campaign to prevent cervical cancer worldwide. The Prevent Cervical Cancer campaigns will raise awareness of cervical cancer, encourage women to take advantage of the means that are now available to prevent it, and work to make sure that these methods are accessible to girls and women around the globe – particularly to the underserved populations that have much higher rates of cervical cancer.
Sources : European Cervical Cancer Association, www1.qiagen.com