Screening For Cervical Cancer
26 November 2019
Cervical cancer currently ranks as the third most common cancer in women and second most common cancer in the women of reproductive age group. In Malaysia, every year 1682 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 944 die from it. Only one in four (24%) are diagnosed early enough for a total cure to be possible, which is ironic given the fact that cervical cancer is preventable. This is mainly because despite cervical screening being widely available, the coverage rate is still abysmally low at 22.2% as many women shy away from it!
Cervical cancer screening is a procedure by which changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer are detected, years before the actual cancer develops, thus preventing the formation of cancer. Studies show that more than 90% of cervical cancers are due to infections caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which are spread by sexual contact. Hence, every woman who has ever been sexually active needs to be screened. The recommended schedule is once a year for the first two years and every two to three years until the age of 65 if the initial results are normal. The cut-off age of 65 is only if the woman has been having regular tests with normal results prior to that.
Screening is usually done by, cervical cytology, also called the Pap test or Pap smear and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) DNA testing and is available in both government and private health clinics.
HPV infection can also be prevented by taking the vaccine before becoming sexually active or at least before 45 years of age
Cervical cancer is a highly preventable and treatable cancer. Creating awareness and increasing the uptake of screening by women will help curtail the rising incidence.
Article by: Dr. Vinodhini Bhaskaran, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist