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EXPERT ADVICE

PREVENTIVE MEASURES AGAINST CERVICAL CANCER


BY Gianna R. Montenegro, M.D.

JUNE 2011


Vaccines, safe sex, and fidelity are recommended

Many people tend to seek medical help and protect themselves from an illness only after the onset of symptoms.  Unfortunately, there are some diseases that do not show themselves or exhibit any warning signs, until they emerge in a state that may already be difficult to heal. One such condition is cervical cancer, which may even escape detection during medical tests.  It can develop silently, unknown to its human host, for as long as 10 to 20 years until it is finally revealed, in a much advanced state. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer found in women, next only to breast cancer.

To take preventive measures against the disease, we must understand the virus responsible for it:  Human Papillomaviruses (HPV).  Both women and men play a crucial role in the contraction of the virus  because HPV is acquired through sexual contact by both genders, almost exclusively by penetrative sex.  Acquiring it through non-sexual routes has remained controversial until today. Genital contact without penetration like oral and anal sex can also transmit HPV, though less frequently. Condoms provide protection but are not an assurance.


Vaccination

The risk factors for cervical cancer are as follows:  a young age, 15 to 24 years old; indulging in sexual practices early; having more partners; and sex with an uncircumcised male.  A one-man woman can still be at high risk, though, if her man is or was promiscuous with many women.  Other factors that must be considered are genetics, hormones, smoking habits, a history of many pregnancies, and concomitant sexually transmitted diseases (STD) especially HIV.

Fortunately, the birth of  HPV vaccines,has significantly reduced the incidence of cervical cancer and other HPVrelated diseases:

• Bivalent vaccine for women prevents HPVs 16 and 18 which cause pre-cervical lesions and cervical cancer; and

• Quadrivalent vaccines for both sexes prevent four HPV-related diseases (6, 11, 16, 18) that cause genital warts; respiratory papillomatosis; cervical, vaginal and vulvar pre-cancer; and pre-cancer lesions; as well as penile and anal cancer.

Both vaccines are now given to women ages 9-45  (and older , if deemed necessary). Men ages 9-26  (and older, if needed) can take a Quadrivalent vaccine. Both vaccines provide long-term efficacy and 100 percent prevention if taken before the first sexual activity. A total of three vaccine shots should be taken.  Interchanging the brand of vaccines, though, is not encouraged.

Contraindication are pregnancy, allergy to vaccine components and severe illness. Common reactions to the vaccine include erythema or pain on injection site, and less commonly, headache.


Monogamy

Aside from taking the vaccines, a safer lifestyle can reduce your chances of taking HPV:

• Practice abstinence or be faithful to your partner.  It is the monogamy of the sexual partner, and not infrequent sex, that lessons the risk.

• Protect yourself by wearing condoms and having sex with circumcised males.

• Visit your doctor regularly; get a pap smear and an HPV vaccine.

Invest in the vaccine and a safe monogamous relationship as a means to  prevent contracting HPV and cervical cancer.



About the speaker/author:

Giana R. Montenegro, M.D. is an active staff consultant at the department of OB-GYN at the Makati Medical Center and the Asian Hospital and Medical Center.  She is an advocate on cervical cancer prevention and HPV-related diseases.  Dr. Montenegro gave this talk in MomsToday’s Mommy Power event last April 9 at the Dusit Thani Hotel.





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