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Early diagnosis vital to curing cervical cancer

Update: June, 06/2012 - 10:07

Vaccines and pap smears can protect women against the disease

by Thien Ly

 

Workers in HCM City's Tan Thoi Hiep Industrial Zone receive a medical check-up. Increased awareness about periodic examinations, pap smears and vaccine usage could help women reduce the risk of cervical cancer. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Vy
HCM CITY — Senior Vietnamese physicians say a combination of vaccines and Pap smears is the most effective way to protect women against cervical cancer.

In Viet Nam, nearly six out of every 100,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Each year, more than 5,000 women are found with the disease, of whom nearly 2,500 die.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) can lead to serious infections and is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women.

Most HPV infections go away by themselves. However, some high-risk types of HPV, if not recognised and treated in a timely fashion, can lead to cervical cancer.

The high-risk types of HPV are also believed to cause several other serious diseases in women and men, including cancers of the penis, anus, mouth and throat as well as less severe problems, such as peri-anal and genital warts.

Dr Cao Huu Nghia from the HCM City Pasteur Institute said there were more than 100 types of HPV virus, of which between 15 and 18 types could be malignant.

Dr Le Quang Thanh from Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital said many Vietnamese did not know that HPV-related diseases, including cervical cancer, could be prevented with vaccinations, or treated completely if discovered early.

"Many people think HPV vaccinations will help protect them from all kinds of cervical cancers, so they do not participate in periodic exams to discover pre-cancerous lesions and cervical cancer. Some believe that people who have cervical cancer were destined to have it, so they must accept it," Thanh said.

"Because of this, our task is to warn that cervical cancer and some kinds of HPV-associated diseases can be effectively prevented by vaccinations."

Another doctor advised the use of vaccines and infection control measures together with periodic examinations and the Pap test.

Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) have been shown to protect against most cervical cancers in women, but only Gardasil can protect against genital warts. It has also been shown to protect against cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva, according to Nghia.

The vaccine has been given to girls and young women between nine and 26 years old. Injections are given three times over a six-month period.

Dr Tran Dang Ngoc Linh of the HCM City Tumour Hospital said Australia carried out a free HPV-vaccination programme for three years that lowered the number of women infected with genital warts by 73 per cent. The number of infected men also fell by 44 per cent.

The Pap test, commonly known as a Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Significant changes can be treated in a timely manner.

However, many women in the country, especially those in rural and remote areas, are unable to schedule regular Pap smears.

Dr Thanh said that although the prices of HPV vaccines in Viet Nam were now lower than those in many countries, they were still beyond most people's financial capacity.

The doctor called on social organisations and schools to participate in educating girls and women about the importance of the use of HPV vaccines as well as periodic cervical exams and a Pap test. — VNS

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