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A Close Look at Myths and Facts on Cervical, Colorectal, and Liver Cancers

Fear of Cancer

The thought of having cancer is deeply worrying, and one can be tempted to access the wealth of digital information at your fingertips about the topic. But take heed! Cancer isn’t a condition to be taken lightly, so it will always be best to verify any information you find with a medical professional. After all, cancer is still a main cause of human deaths worldwide. In 2020 alone, there were around 19.3 million cancer cases globally with nearly 10 million deaths. 1

 Cancer cases in the Philippines have also increased from 141,020 in 20182 to 153,751 in 20203. The cancer types topping the local list are lung and breast cancer — breast cancer [1] actually ranks #1 in terms of new cases, with over 27,000 new cases recorded in 2020, and lung[2]  cancer as second with over 19,000 new cases.3

Of equal concern, however, are the cancers that rank after lung and breast in terms of new cases. When talking about deaths per new cases, liver cancer actually took the life of 9,953 people out of the 10,594 diagnosed last year.3 Colon cancer deaths were recorded at over 6,000 after a recorded 11,315 new cases.3 Cervical cancer deaths, meanwhile, were recorded at over 4,000 women after a recorded 7,897 new cases.3

Unfortunately, apart from these statistics, there are several misconceptions about these cancers which only further aggravate the fears of many Filipinos. This article seeks to distinguish facts from myths about cervical, colorectal, and liver cancers and hopefully rectify these misperceptions. Likewise, it can help guide patients in making informed decisions about their cancer journey.

Cervical Cancer

In the Philippines, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women after breast cancer. The cancer starts in the cervix, which connects the vagina to the lower part of the uterus. One of the main causes of this cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), commonly passed on through sex.4 This type of cancer can thankfully be prevented early by getting screened early.

Myth –I don’t need screening. No one in my family has cervical cancer!

Fact – HPV is sexually transmitted, and can infect people without a family history of said cancer. Family history cannot be the sole determinant of cervical cancer, so get screened regularly!5 Early and regular screening may detect precancerous lesions before they fully develop into cervical cancer.

Myth – I don’t have any of the symptoms so I must not have cervical cancer.

Fact – Screening should be done regardless of presence of symptoms, as screening helps detect any disease that may still not have any signs or symptoms yet.Screening tests include pap smears, an HPV test, a combination of both, and visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA).6

Myth – I don’t want to be screened. If I have cervical cancer, I have no chance of surviving it anyway.

Fact – Getting screened early is a way to catch precancerous lesions before they develop into cervical cancer. Vaccination reduces the risk of getting it, and early detection may increase the chances of survival.

Colorectal Cancer

A cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum, this happens when abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum which may develop into cancer over time.8 The best option to prevent and treat this disease is to consult a medical specialist and undergo regular screening.

Myth – If I have a rectal or colon polyp, I automatically have cancer and must require surgery.8

Fact – Polyps are the pre-cancerous lesions that may progress to become colorectal cancer, but when these polyps are detected early, they can be completely removed during colonoscopy. The key is to get screened so that chances of it developing into cancer decrease, and chances of survival increase.

Myth — If my family members have colorectal cancer, I must have it too and there’s no way I can prevent it.

Fact — It is always possible to reduce the risks of developing colorectal cancer, and knowing of a family history may help you jumpstart early screening. A change in lifestyle helps: follow a diet low in fats, with more fruits and vegetables. Exercise also helps.8

Myth – Only a few patients survive from this disease.

Fact – Colorectal cancer may be curable if detected at an early stage. For colon cancer, the overall 5-year survival rate is 63%.9 If the cancer is diagnosed at a localized stage, the survival rate is 91%.9 If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 72%.9 If colon cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 14%.9 Regrettably, only one-third of colorectal cancers are discovered at the early stage.8

Myth – Colonoscopy is painful and difficult.

Fact – Modern procedures can help make this screening procedure less uncomfortable. Sedation may be used. The day before the colonoscopy may be more uncomfortable, but is a necessary preparation step to detect possible cancerous polyps.8 Colonoscopy, after all, is far better than developing cancer!

Liver Cancer

Did you know that Hepatitis B and C viruses can increase the possibility of someone developing liver cancer? In 2020, over 10,000 Filipinos were diagnosed with this cancer.3

Myth – If I have hepatitis C, that means I have liver cancer, too.

Fact – Not all cases of Hepatitis C lead to cancer.10 Hepatitis C (and B), however, are one of the causes of liver cancer, along with obesity, smoking, cirrhosis, and others.11

Myth – Alcohol drinking leads to liver cancer.

Fact – Excessive intake of alcohol raises one’s risk of getting liver cancer and other kinds of cancer such as Mouth and throat, Voice box (larynx), Esophagus, Colon and rectum, and Breast (in women). 11 When the body breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde, it may hamper DNA repair, and when this happens, cells may begin to grow out of control and become cancer.11

The Bottom Line

When it comes to chronic and serious illnesses like cancer, stay away from unverified information. Avoid misleading information which can only lead to ill-advised conclusions. Be sure about your sources. Always verify information with a medical professional, for your welfare and survival.

Sources:

  1. Hyuna Sung PhD, Jacques Ferlay MSc, ME, Rebecca L. Siegel MPH, Mathieu Laversanne MSc, Isabelle Soerjomataram MD, MSc, PhD, Ahmedin Jemal DMV, PhD, Freddie Bray BSc, MSc, PhD. “Global Cancer Statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN Estimates of Incidence and Mortality Worldwide for 36 Cancers in 185 Countries: Abstract” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 04 Feb. 2021. https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21660#d1867259. Accessed 7 June 2021.
  2. Globocan 2018
  3. World Health Organization. “Cancer Country Profile: Philippines” https://www.who.int/cancer/country-profiles/PHL_2020.pdf. Accessed 7 June 2021.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA. “Get the Facts: 3 Myths about Cervical Cancer Screening” CDC Blogs, 9 Jan. 2018. https://blogs.cdc.gov/cancer/2018/01/09/3-myths-about-cervical-cancer-screening/.  Accessed 7 June 2021.
  5. Cancer.Net Editorial. “Cervical Cancer: Screening and Prevention | Cancer.Net.” Cancer.Net, 25 June 2012, https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/screening-and-prevention. Accessed 7 June 2021.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA. “What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk of Cervical Cancer?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Jan. 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/prevention.htm. Accessed 7 June 2021.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA. “What Is Colorectal Cancer?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/what-is-colorectal-cancer.htm. Accessed 7 June 2021.
  8. American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. “Colon Cancer Myths vs. Reality .” ASCRS, https://fascrs.org/patients/diseases-and-conditions/a-z/colon-cancer-myths-vs-reality. Accessed 7 June 2021.
  9. Cancer.Net Colorectal Cancer: Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/colorectal-cancer/statistics. Accessed September 7, 2021.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA. “Liver Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/liver/. Accessed 7 June 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA. Alcohol and Cancer | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/alcohol/. Accessed 7 June 2021.


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