Generally, all women who have had sexual intercourse are at risk of cervix cancer, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
However, rare types of cervical cancer can occur even in women who never had any sexual intercourse.
Second leading cancer in PH
The cervix is part of the female reproductive system located at the junction of the vagina and the uterus (womb). It is often called the neck of the womb.
In the Philippines, cervical cancer is the 2nd leading cancer site among women.
During the webinar series on cervical cancer with the theme, “A Paradigm Shift in Cervical Cancer Care en route to Elimination,” Dr. Razel Nikka Hao, Director of Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the DOH, said that cervical cancer ranks as the most frequent cancer among women and the second most frequent cancer among women aged 15 and 44 years of age.
“It is the most treatable and preventable form of cancer if detected early and managed effectively,” Dr. Hao said.
An estimated 7,277 new cases, and 3,807 deaths due to cervical cancer are expected to occur every year.
According to the DOH, recent studies showed that there has been overwhelming evidence that an infectious agent, particularly the human papilloma virus (HPV) that is transmitted through sexual intercourse, causes cancer of the cervix.
The following had been established as possible causes of cervix cancer:
- Have had multiple sexual partners;
- Have had sexual partners (regular or casual) who themselves had several sexual partners;
- Have had a sexual partner who is infected with human papilloma virus; and
- Had first sexual intercourse at a very early age, possibly 15 or 16 years old
Generally, the DOH said, cervix cancer does not have any symptoms. Often, the disease is detected during its advance stage.
However, the following impressions often lead to cervix cancer:
- Unusual bleeding from the vagina at any time; and
- Unpleasant vaginal discharge
Cervical cancer when detected early is curable. At present, the most reliable and practical way to diagnose early cervical cancer is through a Pap smear.
A woman’s first Pap smear should be done three years after the first vaginal intercourse.
After that, it should be done every year for three years. If the Pap smear test is negative for the consecutive three years, then it can be done every two or three years.
In unmarried women who never had sexual activity in their life, Pap smear should be done at age 35.
Since there is almost universal acceptance that cervical cancer is primarily transmitted through sexual intercourse, the following preventive measures should be followed:
- A one-partner sexual relationship should be observed;
- A delay on the first sexual intercourse; and
- Use of barrier contraceptives like condoms during sexual intercourse
The World Health Assembly (WHA), meanwhile, adopted the global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.
The definition of the elimination of cervical cancer has been set up as a country reaching the threshold of less than four cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women per year.
To reach this threshold by the end of 21st century, the World Health Organization has set up the “90-70-90 targets” to be reached by 2030 and to be maintained:
- 90 percent of girls fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by age 15;
- 70 percent of women are screened with a high-performance test by 35, and again by 45 years of age; and
- 90 percent of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment (90 percent of women with pre-cancer treated; 90 percent of women with invasive cancer managed).
WHO noted that it has developed guidance and tools on how to prevent and control cervical cancer through vaccination, screening and treatment, management of invasive cancer.
Likewise, WHO works with countries and partners to develop and implement comprehensive programs in line with the global strategy.