Thursday, October 02, 2008

Cervical Cancer and Human Papillomavirus

Reading through The Philippine Star, I bumped into an advertisement which presents a husband lying in bed and trying to feel the presence of his deceased wife. What makes this interesting is the question flashed below which goes Naisip mo na ba kung gaano kasakit matulog at gumising na mga-isa?. Apparently, this seeks to inform readers that a woman has an eighty percent chance of already being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) when she reaches fifty and that there are ten women who die of cervical cancer hence, ten new widowers everyday.

This advertisement brought me back to an article entitled A survivor’s battle with cervical cancer by Annie A. Jambora which was released last August fifth in Philippine Daily Inquirer. This highlights the experience of Josefina de la Cruz with cervical cancer, country’s second leading cause of death among Filipino women. Other than her menstrual period which takes much longer than usual, sometimes going for full ten days, she was feeling fine. In August 2001, exactly ten years after her mother succumbed to the same disease, she was diagnosed with multiple myoma.

Although the diagnosis is not a life-threatening condition, she nevertheless pushed through with all the necessary medical procedures. However, it was just last year when she figured out that the cancer was actually caused by HPV which she, unknowingly, had acquired from her husband.

Cervical Cancer
The Harvard Guide to Women’s Health defines cervical cancer as a disease that develops gradually starting with abnormal cell changes called preinvasive lesions (also called low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions, or SIL; or dysplasia). These sometimes revert to normal cells. Nevertheless, these cell changes are considered a precancerous condition. In time (sometimes a full decade), some precancerous cells may develop into localized cancer, called carcinoma in situ, which affects the outer surface of the cervix (Carlson, Eisenstat, Ziporyn, 1996, p. 130).

World Health Organization states, in its website, that all cervical cancer cases (99%) are linked to genital infection with HPV, which is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and HVP vaccines-Key points for policy makers and health professionals provides main points on this virus.

 HPVs are a family of viruses that are extremely common worldwide. There are more than 100 types.
 They are deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) viruses that infect skin or mucosal cells.
 At least 13 of these types are oncogenic (cancer-causing).
 HPV is estimated to cause
-100% of cancer cases,
-90% of anal cancer cases,
-40% of cases of cancers of the external genitalia (vulva, vagina and penis),
-at least 12% of oropharyngeal cancer cases, and
-at least 3% of oral cancer cases.
 HPV types 16 and 18 cause approximately 70% of all cervical cancers worldwide.
 Almost 500 000 cases of cervical cancer and 274 000 cervical cancer deaths occurred in 2002.
 About 80% of cervical cancer deaths occur in developing countries.

In the article which was mentioned earlier, it is stated that HPV, affecting both men and women, can be acquired only through skin contact. Men are generally spared from the deadly virus and only serve as carriers even if they use condoms. These do not protect a woman from contacting the said virus since the scrotum is still exposed.

It is wonderful knowing that newsprint media have started realizing the importance of writing on cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV) as one of its causes. Untold stories of women, we can now finally conclude, are beginning to be told.

• “Naisip mo na ba kung gaano kasakit matulog at gumising na mga-isa?”. The Philippine Star: September 24, 2008, page 13.
• Jambora, Annie A. “A survivor’s battle with cervical cancer”. Philippine Daily Inquirer: August 05, 2008, page C1.
• Carlson, Karen J., Eisenstat, Stephanie A., Ziporyn, Terra. The Harvard Guide to Women’s Health. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996.
• World Health Organization. September 29, 2008 .
• “Cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and HVP vaccines-Key points for policy makers and health professionals”. September 29, 2008 .

Original article by Amanh B Lao, research associate, HAIN.