One medical professional is calling on women to not only get their annual check-ups but to speak to their doctors about cervical cancer screening.
Obstetrician and gynecologist at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre, Dr Cherie Tulloch, was speaking on OBSERVER AM yesterday when she raised the alarm over the number of women in Antigua and Barbuda presenting with cervical cancer in advanced stages.
In fact, Dr Tulloch mentioned that only a small percent of patients presenting with the ailment are in stage one of the cancer’s progression.
“That’s the reality. Most of the women that are presenting with cervical cancer are presenting in stage two to stage four. Only about 12% of our patients who present to our hospital here in Antigua are in stage one, so the majority of our patients are beyond the stage of surgical intervention and are already in the realm of needing radiation and chemotherapy, which is way more expensive,” Tulloch explained.
According to Dr Tulloch, this stark statistic means that women are not availing themselves of the opportunity to be screened regularly for the cancer that is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), since it takes several years between initial infection and the development of the cancer.
“During that eight-to-10-year period, any women who is going for regular screenings would have had an opportunity for us to pick it up and treat it in its pre-cancerous stage and prevent her from ending up with cervical cancer. The problem is that, clearly, our women are not availing themselves enough of the opportunities for prevention, which not only involve screening, but also involve vaccination. So, there’s not enough vaccination and there’s not enough screening. Most of the women that have presented with cervical cancer have never ever done a pap smear, or their last pap smear was more than 10 years ago,” she added.
Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is regarded as the most common sexually transmitted infection with 80 to 90 percent of people becoming exposed to the virus through intercourse. Others contract the illness even without sexual activity.
While the prevalence of the virus may paint a gloomy picture for women, this form of cancer is the first and only cancer that is preventable through medical intervention, after an HPV vaccine became available in 2006.
The doctor also stressed the importance of responsible sexual behavior, because having sex before the age of 18, having multiple sexual partners, unprotected intercourse and exposure to other sexually transmitted infections all increase the risk of developing cervical cancer, since there is a woman’s added possible exposure to the types of HPVs that cause cancer.
Dr Tulloch is encouraging women to get their cervical cancer screenings done through a pap smear at least every three years from the age of 21 to 65, as well as testing for the presence of the virus.
She is also advising women to not wait until something is wrong to see their doctor.