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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Dispelling myths about cervical cancer

Local experts will raise awareness of Asia's second-most common cancer
The Straits Times - May 8, 2013
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Dispelling myths about cervical cancer

AROUND 200 new cases of cervical cancer surface each year in Singapore, according to the Singapore Cancer Registry. About half of them end in death.

Due to misunderstanding about the disease and the unpopularity of Pap smear screenings, Singapore has failed to reduce the number of cervical cancer patients, said Professor Tay Sun Kuie, senior consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Singapore General Hospital yesterday.

That is why in the ongoing Cervical Cancer Month, local experts are, for the first time, debunking myths about the second-most common cancer in Asia. Cervical cancer also ranks No. 9 among cancers in women here, behind stomach cancer and lymphoma.

"Dispelling these common myths will make a genuine difference in helping parents make an informed choice about vaccination," said Professor Anne Goh, president of the Singapore Paediatric Society.

One of the key myths deals with vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes certain types of cervical cancer, including the asymptomatic strains HPV 16 and 18.

It is recommended for females aged nine to 26, but many parents are concerned about the vaccine's high cost or feel that their daughters may be too young for it.

But Prof Goh said the vaccination is more effective when given at an early age.

"When you look at immune responses of the children who get vaccinated, they develop much better antibody responses against the vaccine," she explained.

Experts also recommend that Pap smears, which analyse cells collected from a woman's cervix, should be done every three years or as often as possible, in case of human error during testing.

Early detection may prevent the disease from developing further. Said Prof Tay: "Cervical cancer is peculiar in that before the cancer develops, there is a stage we call 'pre-cancer', which can be detected by a Pap smear. That allows you to treat the pre-cancer, helping to prevent the development of the cancer."

Women from 28 to 35 years old are at the highest risk of the pre-cancer stage.

Critically, in most cases of HPV infections, the early stages produce little or no symptoms. It is only in later stages that a sufferer finds herself having symptoms such as irregular bleeding, odorous discharge and lower abdominal pain.

"The more tests you do, the less chance you'll miss it," said Prof Tay.

rmytan@sph.com.sg

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