'Better cervical cancer screening is needed'

Earlier detection aids more effective treatment

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ABU DHABI // The UAE needs a system to ensure women find out they have cervical cancer early enough for more effective treatment, a healthcare professional says.

Dr Ritu Nambiar, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Al Rahba Hospital, said the UAE should introduce a system used in countries including the UK that screens patients at regular intervals.

The UK uses a three-tier system to manage its patients, known as the "call and recall system", where a computer automatically tracks down patients every three years to ensure they are called in for an examination.

"The UAE does not have a centralised system to ensure patients receive proper screenings on time," Dr Nambiar said on the sidelines of the 2nd Annual Women's Health Conference in Abu Dhabi, which was organised by Al Rahba Hospital.

The hospital, owned by the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company and managed by Johns Hopkins Medicine International, has increased screening rates for cervical cancer by almost 75 per cent in only three years, Dr Nambiar said.

She attributed the better rates to a campaign launched in 2008 at the hospital.

But the country must reach a target screening of 80 per cent to make a "definite impact" against cervical cancer deaths, Dr Nambiar said.

Cervical cancer is the second-most common type of cancer in women and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths after lung and breast cancer. It occurs in 10 out of every 100,000 women in the UAE.

Dr Nambiar said the biggest step in primary prevention of cervical cancer was through the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, which she called a "miracle" that would save "millions of lives".

The vaccine provides women with almost 100 per cent protection against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause about 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

Since an immunisation programme for schoolchildren was introduced by the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad) in 2007, 59 per cent of girls aged between 16 and 17 have been vaccinated.

The vaccine, which must be taken in three doses over six months, is free for Emiratis, while other residents can buy it subsidised for Dh50 for the three shots.

Dr Nambiar said it was important to target young people before they became sexually active, as 80 per cent of men and women are exposed to HPV at some point.

Haad is starting to extend its immunisation programme to women up to 45 and boys, who can transmit the virus through sex.