Every day, 11 women die of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is a preventable disease, through HPV vaccination and screening. It is also highly treatable, if detected early.
Despite this reality, cervical cancer remains the second most frequent form of cancer among women in the Philippines. Every year, almost 8,000 Filipino women are diagnosed with this disease. About every 2 hours a family loses a loved one – a mother, wife, sister, or a friend – due to cervical cancer.
When a woman dies, the impact of their loss on their family, and on society is immense. They are the backbone of our families and the bedrock of our nation. This may be a “female cancer” but it impacts us all, male and female.
Protecting Women against HPV Infections and Cervical Cancer through Vaccination
Things you need to know about HPV
One life-altering issue that deserves focus is the huge burden that continues to threaten women and men, including teenagers worldwide, caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sexual contact.
While most infections will go away on their own, those that don’t go away can cause certain types of cancer including
- Cervix, vagina, and vulva in women
- Anus in both men and women
- Back of the throat (called oropharyngeal cancer), including the base of the tongue and tonsils, in both men and women
Infection with high-risk HPV does not usually cause symptoms. The precancerous cell changes caused by a persistent HPV infection at the cervix rarely cause symptoms. Precancerous lesions at other sites in the body may cause symptoms like itching or bleeding. And if an HPV infection develops into cancer, the cancer may cause symptoms like bleeding, pain, or swollen glands.
Once high-risk HPV infects cells, it interferes with the ways in which these cells communicate with one another, causing infected cells to multiply in an uncontrolled manner. These infected cells are usually recognized and controlled by the immune system. However, sometimes the infected cells remain and continue to grow, eventually forming an area of precancerous cells that, if not treated, can become cancer. Research has found that it can take 10 to 20 years, or even longer, for HPV-infected cervical cells to develop into a cancerous tumor. This is why regular screening is important – they are used to check for disease when there are no symptoms. The goal of screening for cervical cancer is to find precancerous cell changes at an early stage, before they become cancer and when treatment can prevent cancer from developing. HPV vaccination is also recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent HPV infections and HPV-associated cancers and other diseases. Women of appropriate age may be eligible for vaccination after discussing with their provider.
Towards a cervical cancer-free future
The elimination of cervical cancer has been defined as achieving an incidence rate low enough for the disease to be considered controlled as a public-health problem; this threshold has been defined by the WHO as fewer than 4 cases per 100,000 women per year in each county.
Achieving this vision and each of the elimination targets will require a whole-of-society and multisectoral approach to ensure health systems prioritize women and girls. Individuals, families, communities , civil society, and government agencies at all levels have a role to play in championing greater awareness, education, and social support.
At this critical juncture, we must empower women and rally our neighbors, community leaders, and governments to take action and save thousands of lives. If widespread, high coverage of these interventions can be achieved by 2030 and maintained, research predicts cervical cancer can be eliminated in most countries globally by 2120—avoiding over 63 million deaths of women globally.
Together, let’s commit to women everywhere to end cervical cancer.
WHO Global Strategy for Elimination of Cervical Cancer
The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Strategy for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer suggests a 3-pillar approach and accelerated action in prevention, screening, and cancer management. 90 percent of girls fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by 15 years old; 70 percent of women screened with a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again, by the age of 45; 90% of women with pre-cancerous lesions treated early, and 90% of women with invasive cancer receive treatment. However, for Filipino Women, we need to put our words into action.
Our Call for Implementation
In the spirit of the Universal Health Care and National Integrated Cancer Control Act, We call on policy makers, legislators, political leaders, private organizations and civil society organizations to work together and ensure that the WHO 90-70-90 strategy is promoted and supported in schools, academic institutions, workplaces, and communities.
We ask family members and friends, male or female, to support women in their cancer journey, to encourage them to get vaccinated, screened, and diagnosed.
We strongly urge LGUs to include cervical cancer programs and services in their health and development plans and investment plans. The United Nations has consistently underscored that investment in girls and women is an investment in a better, healthier, and more progressive nation.
We encourage national and local governments to initiate institutionalization of the NICCA provisions on patient navigation, palliative care, and pain management. Studies have revealed that patient navigators can help ensure that patients’ complete treatment, follow treatment schedules, and have a more positive, less distressing, treatment journey.
We demand the allocation of separate and adequate funds in national and local government levels for scaling up HPV vaccination, HPV DNA screening, and treatment of precancerous lesions and invasive cancer. Investing in prevention and screening reduces treatment costs and suffering associated with advanced stages of cervical cancer.
We call on the private sector to implement the NICCA provision of having an enabling cancer policy in their companies and workplaces. We encourage them to increase cancer and cervical cancer related benefits and services to their employees and their families (e.g. free HPV vaccination for children of employees age 9-15; free HPV DNA screening for women aged 35 and 45 years old)
We ask PhilHealth to increase coverage and reach of the Z benefits package for cervical cancer and to include HPV DNA Screening in the Konsulta Plus Package being developed.
We urge DOH and its partner agencies, to create platforms, for information dissemination, knowledge and experience sharing, so that there will be increased awareness on the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, benefits of HPV vaccination and early screening and the quality of care and services, for cervical cancer, will be further enhanced.
We strongly urge all sectors to continue to discover and design collaborative and innovative solutions to solve challenges and constraints involved in the implementation of cervical cancer elimination plans, programs, and initiatives. We recommend that they continue to dialogue across sectors and adopt a whole of society, whole of government, and whole systems approach to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and follow up care of cervical cancer. We invite everyone to join this movementto actively promote and pursue the elimination of cervical cancer for a safer, healthier, better future for all Filipino girls and women.
Learn more about the National Integrated Cancer Control Act or NICCA!
“BE PART OF THE 11,000 VOICES PUSHING FOR CERVICAL CANCER ELIMINATION IN THE PHILIPPINES: https://www.change.org/p/it-is-time-to-take-action-against-cervical-cancer”