Did you know that for Thai women, cervical cancer is second only to breast cancer in terms of the number of sufferers? However, cervical cancer is a form of cancer that if found in its pre-cancerous cells can be prevented from developing, and cured. This is done through care and attention to one’s health, regular internal checkups, and last but not least, HPV cancer screening. Once completed, HPV DNA cancer screening can alleviate any anxieties about this form of cancer.
1 Source: National Cancer Institute
Each year, between 6,000 and 8,000 Thai women develop cervical cancer, with 8 -10 women losing their lives to the disease each day.2 All women who have engaged in sexual intercourse are at risk of developing cervical cancer as almost 100% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the HPV virus because of how easily it is contracted. Aside from being sexually transmitted, the virus is also transmitted through contact alone (this contact is possible through a carrier bringing the virus into contact with the vagina). What is worrying is that once contracted, the virus may not display any outward symptoms such as pain, aches or any form of scarring, which means that by the time women find out they have the HPV virus, it may have taken hold for some years already.
2 Source: National Cancer Institute
While cervical cancer is exclusively caused by the HPV virus, only certain strains of the virus cause cancer. There are only 15 strains which cause the cancer from a total of 100 strains of the HPV virus, with strains 16 and 18 being particularly dangerous.
When carrying out an HPV test, the doctor will place a special device inside the vagina and inspect both the cervix and the vagina paying careful attention to the area of the cervix, which the virus prefers because it is where the cells actively reproduce. The virus will take over this area and cause some irregularities but the effects will be negligible and invisible to the naked eye. Symptoms of the irregularity will not present themselves: no bleeding will occur and any pelvic pain will be completely unrelated.
An assessment called a Pap Smear should be carried out alongside to identify the changes or any irregularities in the cells. This test is good for finding cancer cells or cells that may become cancer. However, Pap test alone will not be able to identify the virus itself and there is a chance too that 15–20% of pre-cancer signals will also be missed. Nevertheless, innovations in medical techniques mean that evaluations of HPV testing are possible and where the HPV virus is found, doctors can now identify exactly which strain it is and whether or not it has the potential to cause cervical cancer.
Since HPV virus infection and precancerous cells are symptomless, most people will be unaware they even have it unless they undergo screening. This means that precancerous change may be left untreated for years with the patient only finding out about it once they already have cervical cancer. Hence, undergoing HPV DNA screening and carrying out a Pap Smear test will help to identify the virus and precancerous cells, which if treated appropriately, will definitely reduce the chances of developing into cervical cancer.
Two key factors that have an effect on the development of cervical cancer:
Since the development of the precancerous cells are particularly slow and sometimes takes years to fully develop to cancer, this is the only viral consequence that can be directly treated and cured if caught early enough. For this reason, patients who develop cervical cancer include those who have not undergone screening in a long while, those who underwent screening but failed to receive their results, or those who underwent screening and received results that identified an irregularity but failed to undergo any treatment because the change was symptomless. Some people even believe that just screening and getting back normal results once is enough to cover them for the rest of their life.
This is quite shocking. Statistics gathered from a number of sources show that:
If all women who are at sexual maturity and have been sexually active were to undergo screening for cervical cancer, up to 15% of them would test positive for the high-risk strain of the HPV virus capable of causing cervical cancer.
Men can also contract the HPV virus but the chances of identifying the virus in males is very low. They are actually only carriers of the infection. So HPV screening is currently not a mandatory screening in men.
Nowadays, many countries carry out HPV DNA screening as their standard form of screening for cervical cancer. Those who return negative results do not have the strain of virus which causes cervical cancer and do not need to screen again until 3 years later, during which time no assessments are necessary because cancer is unlikely to develop within those 3 years. Once the 3 years have elapsed and it is time to screen again, any irregularity that may be found will only be minor and will likely be completely treatable. As a rule, it is advised that Pap Smear test and pelvic examination be carried out annually, whereas HPV Tests are not as frequently required.