ADULT HEALTH – Nowadays, we have to be aware of what we are getting ourselves into. We should be more vigilant with our environment as surroundings significantly affect health and wellness. As far as health is concerned, it’s always best to seek prevention than cure, most especially when it comes to diseases like cervical cancer.[pq]Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop and spread in the cervix (the lower part of a woman’s uterus).[/pq]
When cervical cells first become abnormal, there are rarely any warning signs. As the cancer progresses however, symptoms such as unusual vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding between periods, bleeding after menopause, and bleeding or pain during sex may occur.1
The human papillomavirus, known commonly as HPV, is a large group of viruses which can lead to diseases such as cervical cancer. Among women with cervical cancer, 99.7% are found to be positive with the human papillomavirus.2 HPV refers to a large group of viruses that can infect the genital areas and is so common that most people who have ever had sex—both women and men—will acquire HPV infection at some point in their life.3 It is also possible for a woman to carry the infection for a good amount of time after last sexual contact without presenting with any symptoms. Condoms can lower the risk of getting HPV, but they do not fully protect against the virus.
Non-sexual activities that increase risk
Persistent HPV infection is the necessary cause of cervical cancer.4 While the infection is transmitted primarily by sexual intercourse, skin-to-skin genital contact is also a recognized mode of transmission.5 With the presence of HPV infection, there are also other factors which may increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. Evidently, taking oral contraceptives (OCs) for a long time increases the risk of developing this cancer. Research suggests that the risk of cervical cancer increases the longer a woman takes OCs, but the risk goes back down again after the OCs are stopped.6 In another study, the risk of cervical cancer was found to be double in women who took birth control pills for over 5 years, but the risk returned to normal 10 years after they have stopped taking them.6 Even smoking, having HIV, or having a weak immune system may increase one’s risk of developing cervical cancer.7
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly after persistent infection with HPV and will first appear as a precancerous condition called dysplasia.8 If detected at this stage, it can be effectively treated to prevent its progression to full-blown cervical cancer. Pap smears and HPV tests are helpful in detecting these precancerous conditions so patients are treated early.
According to the CDC, cervical cancer is diagnosed on average at the age of 48.9 A point of concern however is a study among 307 women done in Ontario, which shows that the incidence of cancer-causing HPV infection is highest among girls aged 15-19.10*
Parents of young girls are often not well aware of the concern around cervical cancer, or choose to dismiss it as an impossibility for their young daughter. The first measure against cervical cancer that you can take as a mother is to have your daughter vaccinated as early—in fact, the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization reiterated that it’s important to target girls as young as 9 years old for HPV immunization.11 If you are also open to your daughter, providing counsel toher on keeping an eye out when it comes to sex may be another protective shield as she enters adolescence. For older women, preventing cervical cancer means empowering yourself through both vaccination and regular screening.
The best way to go when it comes to cervical cancer is not to risk your life waiting for it to strike, especially if you know what you can do to prevent it. Ask your doctor about cervical cancer prevention for you and your daughter today.
*Authors concluded further studies required.
For more information on cervical cancer, please consult your doctor.
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Date Created: April 2015
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- National Institute of Health. “Cervical cancer”. 2013. Accessed 20 April 2015. Available at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000893.htm.
- Wallboomers JH et. Al. J Pathol. 1999; 189: 1209
- Tobias J and Hochhauser D. Cancer and its management. Chichester, England: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. Print. p323.
- Philippine Cancer Facts and Estimates. 2010.
- Winer RL et al. Am J Epidemiol 2003; 157: 218-26.
- American Cancer Society. “What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?” 2014. Accessed 20 April 2015. Available at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervicalcancer/detailedguide/cervical-cancer-risk-factor.
- National Cancer Institute. “HIV Infection and Cancer Risk.” 2011. Accessed 20 April 2015. Available athttp://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/hiv-infection.
- University of Michigan Health System. “15 common myths about cervical cancer.” 2007. Accessed 20 April 2015. Available at http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2007/15myths.htm.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “HPV-Associated Cancers Diagnosis by Age.” 2012. Accessed 20 April 2015. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/age.htm
- Sellors JW et al. CMAJ. 2003; 168: 421-5.
- WHO | Summary of the SAGE April 2014 meeting. Available at www.who.int/immunization/sage/meetings/2014/april/report_summary_april_2014/en/. Accessed 21 September 2014.