What is cervical cancer?
It’s cancer at the cervix, the cylindrical tissue that connects the vagina and the uterus. It happens when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. It’s one of the most common cancers in women worldwide, and the second most common cancer in women in the Philippines. Over 2,000 Filipino women die from this yearly.
What causes it?
- The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has been found to cause almost all cervical cancers
- Smoking can increase the risk of cervical cancer among women already infected with HPV.
- HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses. It’s transmitted through skin-to-skin genital contact. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if there’s only one sexual partner.
What are the symptoms?
So far symptoms are detectable only when the cells become cancerous:
- Bleeding from the vagina that’s not normal (bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex, or after menopause).
- Pain during sex.
- Pain in the lower belly or pelvis.
- Vaginal discharge that isn’t normal (discharge is cloudy or yellow; frothy; pink; white and cheesy; gray).
- It’s important to get a Pap test regularly (every three years for women 21–65 years old), so you’ll know if there are cell changes on the surface of the cervix.
Am I at risk?
Every sexually active woman is at risk.
What makes me at risk?
- Having HPV.
- Having more than one sex partner, or having a partner who has more than one partner. (Safe sex can reduce the risk of cervical cancer.)
- Having an impaired immune system. (If you have HIV, you’re more likely to get an HPV infection, which puts you at risk of cervical cancer.)
- Smoking cigarettes or inhaling secondhand smoke. (Cigarette smoking is responsible for most cancers, not just lung cancer.)
Can it be prevented?
Yes. The World Health Organization recommends visiting your doctor for a Pap test AND getting an HPV vaccination.
Do I need to get vaccinated?
For optimal protection against cervical cancer, HPV vaccination is necessary. Ideally vaccination is given at childhood, when one isn’t sexually active yet. (Those who haven’t been infected with HPV will get the full benefit of the vaccine.) Also, have regular check-ups after you’ve gotten yourself vaccinated for optimal protection.
When do I need to get vaccinated?
Women ages 13–26 should get the vaccine if they haven’t gotten it before.
What is the treatment for cervical cancer?
Treatment depends on type and stage of the cancer:
- Surgery. This removes the cancer. It will depend on where on the cervix the cancer is.
- Radiation therapy. X-rays are used to kill the cancer cells. It’s usually used with surgery.
- Chemoradiation. It’s a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, and it treats cervical cancer at the early stage and the late stage.
- Chemotherapy. This uses medicines to kill the cancer cells, and it treats more developed cervical cancer.