Cervical cancer screening can save your life

Doctors urge regular screening for cervical cancer and more awareness about the disease among men and women.

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DUBAI // Doctors yesterday urged regular screening for cervical cancer and more awareness among men and women about the vaccine that can prevent the disease at the launch of a campaign for early detection.

The initiative, started by the Zulekha Hospital with support from the Friends of Cancer Patients, aims to reach out to both genders through an awareness drive and advertising campaign.

“In the UAE we believe we have a good screening process but what we lack is awareness,” said Dr Mariam Matar, the founder and chairwoman of the UAE Genetic Disease Association, at the launch in Dubai.

“Emirati women are so busy taking care of their house, family and jobs that the last person they take care of is themselves. My advice to my sisters and colleagues is to be aware that cervical cancer can be prevented with a one-time vaccine.”

Cervical cancer is the second-most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women in the UAE and is preventable. An average of 50-55 women have cervical cancer diagnosed annually in the UAE.

More than 99 per cent of cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papilloma virus or HPV. Doctors recommend that women, and men, receive the HPV vaccine before getting married or becoming sexually active.

The campaign is part of a long-term goal to implement a population-wide vaccination drive.

Doctors said the condition required health professionals to address sensitive cultural issues when informing patients that the disease can impact not just women but also men.

Dr Matar told of a case of a woman in her mid-20s who contracted it when her husband was sexually active. “I would prefer that awareness is promoted among males and females,” said Dr Matar.

“It’s better to promote a pap smear among women and the vaccine for men because in this way the husband will make sure his wife is vaccinated first. It should be obligatory for all males before they get married.”

Doctors recommend a pap smear for women aged between 25 and 65 who are sexually active. During the pap test, a doctor takes a small sample of cells from the cervix and this is sent to the laboratory to detect any abnormal change.

Early detection is vital since most women do not report noticeable symptoms until after the cancer has spread to other organs.

“We want to remove the stigma that is sometimes associated with the disease that it impacts sexually active women and we hope to make people understand that it is not just a cancer that affects women but also men,” said Dr Pamela Munster, a visiting cancer expert from the University of California San Francisco.

"We need to get the message out that there is a need to vaccinate those who are sexually active – men and women. Nobody needs to die from it because cervical cancer is preventable and curable."

Zulekha hospitals in Dubai and Sharjah are offering free specialist advice and discounted pap smear tests for a month. The awareness campaign is supported by Dubai Health Authority officials who offered support in increasing understanding about cervical cancer.

Dr Betty John, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Zulekha, urged women to set aside a few minutes for the pap smear test and learn more about the vaccine.

“A woman’s own health is always the last priority but it is important for their family that they make some time to book a pap test that all gynaecologists can do and they must also understand the life-long protection they will get with the vaccine,” she said.