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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

How well do you know your cervix? MakatiMed is here to help out

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How well do you know your cervix? MakatiMed is here to help out

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When was the last time you thought about your cervix? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In a 2016 study involving 1,000 British women, only a third could correctly identify the specific location of the cervix in a diagram. Another US survey among college students showed that only 46% of women were able to point out the cervix in a female reproductive system illustration.

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Perhaps that’s why few women pay attention to their cervix—until something goes wrong. Cervical cancer is the second leading type of cancer among women in the Philippines. “An estimated 7,897 new cases of cervical cancer occur every year, while deaths due to cervical cancer amount to 4,052 annually, according to the DOH,” says Glenn B. Benitez, MD, a gynecologic-oncologist from the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology of the top hospital in the Philippines, Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed).

The good news? Cervical cancer is almost totally preventable. Dr. Benitez gives us fast facts on this underappreciated yet vital part of the female anatomy—including how to keep it cancer-free.

Where exactly is the cervix and what does it do? The cervix is the cylinder-shaped, inch-long tunnel located between the vagina and uterus that allows fluid to course to and from the uterus. “Menstrual blood flows from your uterus to the cervix and out the vagina. When you’re ovulating, the cervix releases a less viscous and less acidic type of mucus so sperm can easily pass through the uterus and fertilize an egg,” explains Dr. Benitez. “During a vaginal birth, the cervix widens or dilates, helping the baby come out from the uterus. And when you’re not pregnant, the cervix prevents microbes from going all the way up to your uterus.”

How does cervical cancer develop? The knowledge of Cervical Oncogenesis (or the start and progression to cancer of the cervix) has undergone significant developments in the last several decades. “We now know the various risk factors and the “necessary trigger” – the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – to start on the road of cancer development. It is now believed that persistent high-risk HPV infection over many years can lead to cervical cancer,” warns Dr. Benitez. High risk HPV usually have no gross features and can only be detected with special HPV DNA tests, while low-risk HPV types may have skin or genital warts.

Like many cancers, cervical cancer only begins to show symptoms during its invasive stages. “See your doctor if you note unusual vaginal bleeding, an unpleasant vaginal discharge, lower back pain, and a general feeling of fatigue,” Dr. Benitez adds.

Can I protect myself against cervical cancer? Yes, if you’re vigilant enough. “For women between the ages of 21 and 65, experts recommend a Pap smear done every three years; above 30 years of age, it can be as infrequent as every five years if combined with testing for HPV,” Dr. Benitez recommends. A test wherein samples of cells from your cervix are collected and sent to a lab for screening, a Pap smear can detect precancerous cells that can be removed before they can progress into the invasive phase. Thanks to screening, and notably using the new HPV DNA-based tests, cervical cancer can either be prevented or detected in the early stages and cured.

In the last decade, there’s the introduction of the HPV vaccine. Given in three doses over a period of six months, it provides nearly 100% protection against High-Risk HPV 16/18 infections, and the precancers caused by these two strains of HPV. “Available to both boys and girls, the vaccine can be administered to them between the ages of 9 and 12 years old,” Dr. Benitez points out. “This can probably help prevent almost 90% of HPV related cancers when they get older.” The vaccine has also been approved for use for women up to age 45.

How else can I care for my cervix? Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking can be helpful in improving cervical health. “Smokers have double the chance of getting cervical cancer than non-smokers because tobacco byproducts are believed to initiate cervical cellular changes that can lead to cancer,” Dr. Benitez explains. “Avoiding coitus near menarche, limiting sexual partners, and engaging in protected sex also lessen your chances of being infected by life-threatening strains of HPV.”

Otherwise, Dr. Benitez suggests sticking to habits that benefit the cervix, the reproductive system, and one’s overall wellbeing like maintaining a healthy weight, following a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and seeking gynecologic screening early in life.

For more information, please contact MakatiMed On-Call at +632.88888 999, email [email protected], or visit https://www.makatimed.net.ph.  Follow @IamMakatiMed on Facebook and Twitter

This article has been initially published last

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