Why does cervical cancer matter?
Many women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is most commonly found in women aged 30–50 years. Each year, around 466,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Of the 231,000 women who die of cervical cancer annually, approximately 80% of deaths occur in developing countries.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Thailand. According to statistics, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death among women, followed by breast cancer. According to Thailand’s Department of Health under the Ministry of Public Health, around 4,500 Thai women die from cervical cancer each year while around 8,000 new cases were reported each year. Therefore, in Thailand, 8–10 women from cervical cancer each day.
Who are at risk of having cervical cancer?
Today, studies confirm that cervical cancer is caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. To date, 25 strains of HPV out of 100 — especially HPV strains 16 and 18 — are reported as they are easily transmitted through sexual intercourse and contact with someone who has HPV infection that can infect the genital area, including the vagina. In this connection, all women are at risk of contracting the HPV strains that cause cervical cancer.
According to statistics 80–90% of women have been infected with some type of HPV (the strains that cause and don’t cause cancer). However, once in two years women have chances of getting HPV. After their first sexual intercourse, a woman may have contracted and recovered from HPV many times without being aware of it as she has no signs or symptoms. Fifteen percent of fertile women are at risk of contracting HPV that causes cervical cancer.
From all diagnosed women, the following are factors that cause cervical cancer.
- Early onset of sexual activity (younger than 18 years old)
- Multiple sexual partners
- A history of sexually transmitted diseases
- Chronic diseases, or immune-related diseases such as HIV
- Cervical abnormalities detected by internal examinations and Pap smear screening
- Smoking increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Can cervical cancer be prevented?
Although cervical cancer has the highest mortality rate, it is one of those cancers that can be prevented by Vaccination to prevent the contraction of common strains of HPV.
A pelvic examination and screening of abnormal cells in the cervical area. Screening for cervical cancer should start at age 21, or within three years of becoming sexually active. Women are advised to opt for pelvic examination once every one or two years.
For women aged 30 years and older, pelvic examination should be done annually. If the results are HPV-negative for three consecutive years, the examination can be conducted once every three years.
Women aged 70 or older do not need any more examination if the previous tests have been negative from HPV for the last 10 consecutive years. If abnormal cells are found during the HPV test, more tests can be done to see the level of abnormality in cervical epithelium during the possible precancerous condition.
Although the level of severe abnormality is found in cervical epithelium, it can be treated by uncomplicated methods at an affordable price in an effort to cut the root cause of cancer.
Who should receive HPV vaccination?
It is clear and globally acceptable that HPV vaccination to protect against HPV strains 16 and 18 is highly effective in lowering the risk of cervical cancer.
The best prevention is to get the HPV vaccine when these two strains are not found yet.
Girls aged between 9 and 10 years can be vaccinated. Adolescents younger than 15 years can receive two doses of HPV vaccine to prevent contracting the two strains. This is as effective as three doses of vaccination in adult females.
The vaccine may be less effective in women aged 26 years or older or have had sexual intercourse. However, research indicates vaccination for this group of women remains effective in overall aspects, especially to prevent the severity of cancer.
Although the abnormality level is high in cervical epithelium, the vaccine helps prevent it from coming back by 70%