Cervical Cancer: How Can Women Protect Themselves?
Aon Health & Wellbeing Conversation #4
Every year, an estimated 300,000 women die of cervical cancer. It is considered one of the greatest health issues plaguing women in the world today. In the Philippines alone, it is the second leading type of cancer affecting women – with an annual expectancy of more than 7,000 new cases. While records show that most cases affect women who have had sexual intercourse, there are also rare occasions of infection to women who have not had any.
What is cervical cancer?
This disease is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus. This virus sits in the cervix, which is a part of the female reproductive system that links the uterus to the vagina. It causes the cells in the cervix to have abnormal changes that develop into cancer. When a woman’s immune system is strong, it keeps the virus from doing harm; however, when her immune system is compromised, the virus begins to take hold.
Women face greater risk when they are:
- Sexually active with multiple partners, or with partners who have had multiple partners
- Engage early in sexual activity
- Have other sexually transmitted infections or diseases
- Have a weakened immune system
- Have taken oral contraception for a prolonged period
The HPV attack is slow and may be undetected during the early stages as symptoms do not show. Only when the cancer has advanced or metastasised will symptoms be apparent – and sometimes, this may be too late for successful disease management or treatment.
How can you tell if you or a family member may have cervical cancer?
- Unusual bleeding (whether heavy or spotting) at any time, mostly in between periods or after menopause
- Watery, bloody, or heavy discharge with an unpleasant odour
- Pelvic pain and/or painful intercourse
- Bleeding after an intercourse or a routine vaginal test
- Kidney failure, as a complication due to urinary tract or bowel obstruction during advanced stages.
Prevention and early detection are key
While this disease only affects women, it is an issue everyone must be concerned about. After all, we all have our mothers, sisters, wives, and/or daughters whom we care about, and would benefit from any information about the disease and activity to fight against it.
Here are a few ways to detect cervical cancer early, or prevent it altogether:
- Routine screenings such as Pap smears
- Practice safe sex
- Educate young females to delay being sexually active
- Keep your immune system strong
- Avoid smoking.