October 2, 2023

A DNA-based test to detect the human pappiloma virus (HPV) – the virus that causes genital warts, cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, vulval and vaginal cancer, and head and neck cancer is now available at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center but for a limited time only.

The DNA-based testing is a new tool for the early detection of cervical cancer and at present, only a few countries are using it.

The DNA-based testing allows self-collection of specimen unlike the conventional way of screening which requires the assistance of a doctor or a nurse to gather specimen using a scapula that is inserted into the vagina. 

Compared to the conventional HPV testing methods such as pap smear and visual inspection with acetic acid, the DNA test has a higher accuracy result and is able to detect the cervical cancer at its early stages.

But this type of test costs between P4,500 to P6,500 in private laboratories or hospitals and is not yet widely available, according to BGHMC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Head, Dr. Jimmy Billod.

With the assistance of the Johns Hopkins University through the project called Scale-Up Cervical Cancer Elimination with Secondary Prevention Strategies Project in the Philippines (Success), BGHMC, along with 30 sites in the Phi-lippines, have been chosen to implement the DNA-based HPV test.

Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Guatemala are the other countries chosen to implement the pro-ject.

At the BGHMC, the free DNA testing started in January and will last until November only.

Citing the study that he and another doctor conducted in 2020, Billod said the reasons for the late detection of cancers caused by the HPV are: a woman’s inhibitions when a doctor has to examine her most intimate part, cannot afford the cost of vaccine, lack of proper information about HPV and cervical cancer, inability to communicate desire to get screened, and choosing not to get screened.

With the DNA test, he hopes more women will avail, as early detection can save more lives, will lessen the cost of treatment, and prevent the complications associated with cancers caused by the HPV such as loss of reproductive function.

Those who want to avail of the DNA testing will be counseled about the protocols before testing and will be taught how to properly collect the specimen, after which the sample will be submitted to the laboratory where results will be available in five to seven days.  

With May being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Billod reminded that cervical cancer can be avoided by sticking to one partner, practicing safe sex, for women and girls to have themselves vaccinated against the HPV, and for women aged 25 to 55 years old to undergo regular HPV screening.

All women who had sexual intercourse are at risk of having cervical cancer but the risk increases if they had early sexual intercourse, has multiple sexual partners, has HIV, and those who smoke.

Symptoms of cervical cancer are: ha-ving abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal spotting, pelvic pain, bleeding or spotting after sex, irregular menstruation, bleeding for women who are already menopause, lower back pain, dizziness and fatigue, weight loss and loss of appetite, difficulty in moving bowels or urination, and presence of blood in the stool or urine.

Those who want to avail of the DNA screening may contact the BGHMC Family Medicine or Gyne Clinic at 661-7923 or 661-7932. The clinics are open from Monday to Friday, 8 to 11 a.m.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anachris Kilakil, Medical Officer III of the Department of Health, urged parents of girls nine to 10 years old to give their consent and have their children vaccinated once the DOH resumes the school-based vaccination for girls against the HPV.

The 2020 World Health Organization Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer targets by 2030, 90 percent of eligible girls should have been vaccinated against the HPV; screen 70 percent of eligible women at least twice in their lifetimes; and treat 90 percent of those who test positive with cervical cancer. – Rimaliza A. Opiña