Leading the way to an HPV-free future

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    With significant global attention currently focused on how to deal with COVID-19, other health concerns have taken a backseat due to financial issues and fears of contracting the virus during health check-ups.

    In the Philippines, cervical cancer ranks second among the leading prevalent types of cancer among women. To defer essential screening and preemptive health actions in high-burden settings is not advisable. It may lead to an increase in the incidence of morbidity and mortality among women by an otherwise preventable and treatable disease.

    Hence, this year’s 9th HPV Summit – led by the Cervical Cancer Prevention Network of the Philippines in partnership with the Asia & Oceania Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, and the Department of Health – aims to highlight the importance of continuously pursuing the global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer despite the current coronavirus pandemic.

    Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus spread mainly by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity which may have no visible signs or symptoms. The body clears the infection on its own in most people, but can sometimes cause serious illness. At least 14 types of HPV have been found to be cancer-causing.

    HPV-related cancers such as cervical cancer can be prevented and treated if detected at its early stages. The precancerous stage provides ample window for detection and treatment, and it could take as long as 30 years before it reaches malignancy.

    However, it is one of the most common types of cancer and common causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide, affecting mostly young, vulnerable women from poor countries.

    To achieve the goal of less than four cases per 100,000 women by 2040, a holistic approach is vital and this includes HPV vaccination, screening and treatment of pre-invasive disease, treatment of invasive cervical cancer, and symptom management and palliative care.

    Vaccination is considered one of the most optimal strategies in guarding against HPV.

    Regular screening is also recommended from age 30, and regularly afterwards to detect pre-cancerous lesions and cancer caused by types of HPV not covered by present vaccination for women who may have no symptoms, and also to allow early detection for non-vaccinated women from areas where vaccination coverage is low.

    In 2018, the World Health Organization made a global call for action on cervical cancer elimination. A draft global strategy was created which outlined a list of targets by 2030 and anchored on the three main pillars of prevent, screen, and treat.

    The Philippines answered the call by outlining its own roadmap and strategies which shall be achieved through multisectoral partnerships and to be supported by health care legislations such as the Universal Health Care Act (Republic Act No. 11223) and National Integrated Cancer Control Act (Republic Act No. 11215).