By Theresa Goodwin
The Covid-19 pandemic is not the only crisis that is putting immense strain on the country’s already challenged healthcare system.
A medical practitioner has pointed out that the cost of providing care for women with cervical cancer is another major concern, mainly because most patients are seeking treatment after the illness is already at an advanced stage.
Consultant Oncologist at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre, Dr Hanybal Yazigi, sounded the alarm this week as he stressed the importance of early detection.
He said cervical cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in women in the country – and at least 75 percent of patients are presenting when the cancer is already advanced.
“Because of the stage it is being diagnosed at, it is causing a significant strain on the health systems here in terms of cost to provide treatment etc, whereas if it was detected earlier, a simple surgical procedure could be done to remove the pre-malignant cells and the cancer is prevented,” Dr Yazigi said.
More than 95 percent of cervical cancer is due to the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual contact and most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity, according to the World Health Organization.
Most sexually active women and men will be infected at some point in their lives, and some may be repeatedly infected.
Although most HPV infections clear up on their own and most pre-cancerous lesions resolve spontaneously, there is a risk for all women that HPV infection may become chronic and pre-cancerous lesions progress to invasive cervical cancer.
Stressing that early detection is key, the oncologist said doctors are now recommending pap smear screening at an earlier age to test for cervical cancer.
He explained that screening generally starts at the age of 21, however, gynaecologists are now pushing to start it at least two years after a female becomes sexually active.
Dr Yazigi said HPV is detected even earlier when the woman is sexually active, and the doctor would then have to monitor that patient more closely to determine if there is any abnormality in the cells in an effort to offer treatment at the onset.
“Also, the frequency of screening should be around every two years. The gynaecologist would sit down with you for a long, detailed conversation to come up with a plan to let you known how frequent you may require screening,” Dr Yazigi said.
He said the team at the hospital will be bolstering their public awareness drive in the coming weeks to promote a greater understanding of the issue and preventative measures.