Cancer survivor May Tiong, 47, did not have any idea that she had cervical cancer prior to its diagnosis.
Although she was uninformed about cervical cancer and its risks, May kept going for regular Pap smear tests since she had her daughter Wen Ning 23 years ago.
However, May missed her scheduled Pap smear test in 2007. And until she was diagnosed at her next test in 2008, she didn’t experience any symptoms of cervical cancer.
This was an eye-opener for May.
After her diagnosis, she was determined to educate her daughter Wen Ning about the importance of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination (which can prevent certain HPV infections from occurring) and regular check-ups to screen for cervical cancer later on in life.
May gathered information about cervical cancer online and from her oncologist before speaking to her daughter and convincing her to get the HPV vaccination.
The great news is that after undergoing surgery to remove the cancer, May is now cancer-free.
While continuing her regular visits to her oncologist, May has also succeeded in educating Wen Ning to watch out for cervical cancer risk factors and stay smoke-free.
May’s story is an epiphany to all of us as well. Most of us are still unaware of the dangers of cervical cancer. It is also preventable and curable, if it is treated in the pre-cancerous stage2.
Keep reading for some important facts about cervical cancer.
Facts you might not know:
- This is a cancer of cervix, which is the neck of the womb1.
- It is the 10th most common cancer among women in Singapore2.
- This type of cancer is caused by certain types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are more than 100 types of HPV3.
- Effective cervical screening programs can prevent up to 80% of cervical cancers3.
- Effective cervical screening and HPV vaccination programs could reduce the chances of getting cervical cancer. However, it is important to know that these programs will only work if you make use of them and go for regular check-ups and tests3.
Risk factors and symptoms
There are several things that can increase your chances of getting this type of cancer.
- Extended use of the birth control pill (5 years or more);
- Having given birth to 3 or more kids;
- Having multiple sexual partners;
- Smoking; and
- Having HIV(the virus that causes AIDS)4.
Although the early stages of cervical cancer may not show any symptoms, at times these symptoms may occur: vaginal bleeding that is not your period or after sexual intercourse, a foul smelling vaginal discharge, and/or pain during sexual intercourse.
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is best to consult your doctor5.
The connection between the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer
Although more than 100 types of HPVs exist, cervical cancer is caused when only certain types (namely HPV types 16 and 18) of HPVs infect the cervix, developing into cancer. In about 90% of these infections, the virus clears itself1.
These HPV infections are normal and in most cases go away on its own without requiring any treatment. It is said that the majority of adults have had an HPV infection at some point in their lives3.
Some of these non-cancerous HPVs can cause warts on hands and feet, while others infect both men and women in the genital area causing genital HPV3.
However about 15 of the ‘high-risk’ genital HPVs can lead to cervical cancer. Currently there is no way of telling which infections are harmless and which ones will eventually turn into cervical cancer3.
Cervical cancer screening
Fortunately, this type of cancer grows slowly and it may take many years to develop. The disease passes through several pre-cancerous stages before it becomes life-threatening3.
Effective cervical cancer screening programs are said to prevent up to 80% of cervical cancers3.
Therefore, if you regularly go for a screening (going for a Pap smear once in every 3 years) you can enable early detection as the pre-cancerous stages often don’t present any symptoms3.
Doctors can identify pre-cancerous stages through the screening process. They can then easily remove it by a simple out-patient procedure. This can prevent the cancer from further developing3.
Prevention through vaccination
Routine and regular screening can not only detect the early stages of cervical cancer, but lower your chances of getting it.
The HPV vaccine can prevent certain HPV related infections from occurring — lowering the chances of developing cervical cancer.
Watch this video for more insight
Ladies, we hope this article will convince you to go for regular Pap smears and cervical cancer screenings. When did you last go for a Pap smear? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
1. Health Promotion Board Singapore; Cervical Cancer; Available from: http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/dandc-article/600 [Last accessed: 14 October 2014]
2. Trends in cancer incidence in Singapore 2009-2013; Singapore Cancer Registry Interim Annual Registry Report; Available from: https://www.nrdo.gov.sg/uploadedFiles/NRDO/Publications/Cancer%20Trends%20Report%200913%20FINAL.pdf [Last accessed: 14 October 2014]
3. Cervical Cancer Key Facts and Figures; European Cancer Association; Available from:http://www.ecca.info/fileadmin/user_upload/ccpw2013/CC_Key_Messages_2013.pdf [Last accessed: 14 October 2014]
4. Gynecologic Cancers; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Available from; http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/risk_factors.htm [Last accessed: 15 October 2014]
5. Cancer Information; National University Cancer Institute, Singapore; Available from; http://www.ncis.com.sg/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/cervical.html [Last accessed: 15 October 2014]