Cervical Health Awareness Campaign in Abu Dhabi
To mark Cervical Health Awareness Month which falls in January every year, several activities to raise awareness on cervical health were organized focusing on the importance of cervical cancer early detection and regular screenings in order to detect the disease during its early stages and treat it in a timely manner. Studies have confirmed that early detection prevents the development of cervical cancer by more than 92% because it takes years–sometimes a decade or more–for these cells to turn from normal cells into cancer cells, and periodic examinations are needed to detect these cells early on and thus help fully treat them before they transform into cancer cells.
Danat Al Emarat Hospital for Women & Children and HealthPlus Women’s Health Center, part of United Eastern Medical Services in Abu Dhabi, have organized a variety of events, including a series of awareness lectures and seminars on cervical health and HPV vaccine at its health facilities and in collaboration with other organizations.
Dr. Thomas Kunt, Chief Medical Officer at Danat Al Emarat Hospital said, “In 2016, more than 2750 women underwent pap tests, of which 135 needed colposcopies, and test results showed that none of these women had cervical cancer.” He also pointed out that regular screening for early detection has to be done every 3 to 5 years based on age, test results, medical history and other factors.
“Both, Danat Al Emarat Hospital and HealthPlus Women’s Health Center are accredited by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi as screening centers for cervical cancer,” Dr. Kunt added.
Reports show that a high percentage of cervical cancer cases were generally diagnosed during late stages, and there will always be a need to focus on early detection and raising awareness campaigns targeting certain age groups for cervical cancer prevention, early detection and timely treatment.
Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women in the UAE, preceded by breast cancer, and the number of cervical cancer cases in the UAE accounts for 7% of the overall number of female cancers cases.
“Women between the ages of 25 and 65, as well as married women under-25, should undergo screenings, and based on their age and the results, they should get tested again once every 3-5 years. The examination is usually repeated every 3 years for women between 25 and 49 years old, while women aged 50 – 65 years old undergo pap tests every 5 years. The pap test detects abnormal cervical cell changes which are then tested in the laboratory to test what type pf virus caused it.” Dr. Faten Abu Zomar, Consultant Obstetrics & Gynecology at HealthPlus Women’s Health and Fertility Center, said.
She also added, “These tests are quite easy and are done at most hospitals and health centers by gynecologists and family physicians.”
Dr. Abu Zomar also pointed out that there is a number of risk factors contributed to the development of cervical cancer, including smoking, frequent infections, obesity and consuming hormones without consulting a physician.
“Treatment of the cases infected with the virus which causes cervical tumor (HPV) include–in addition to medication–laser therapy and cold coagulation, depending on the severity and extent of the precancerous lesions,” she added, emphasizing that cervical cancer survival rate is 99%.
In addition to that, Dr. Faten stated that HPV vaccination against cervical cancer was available in Abu Dhabi since it was approved by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi in 2008, and that it is given for free to students aged 15-17 at Abu Dhabi’s public and private schools. This vaccine, according to Dr. Faten, offers over 98% protection against cervical cancer, which contributes to reducing the rates of this disease in the coming years. “Older age groups may be given the vaccine following their physician’s recommendation and after they undergo some procedures for detecting the virus,” she added.
Dr. Marwan Munir Kamil, Obstetrics & Gynecology Consultant at Danat Al Emarat Hospital for Women & Children, said, “The pap test is very simple and is done within few minutes, and it is preferable that women undergo these examinations once every 3-5 years.”
Moreover, he explained that the transformation of normal cells to cancer cells in the cervix usually takes 5 to 15 years, which is why early detection is very important in order to provide the appropriate treatment at early stages and achieve full recovery. He also said that we see now more women visiting their gynecologists for screening as a result of many awareness initiatives amongst women, which, in turn, contributed to the decrease in number of cervical cancer cases.
“Most international scientific studies showed that the human papilloma virus (HPV) caused more than 98% of cervical cancers, and there are 15 types of HPVs, some of which are high-risk HPVs.” Dr. Marwan said, “HPV types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancers.”
“A Pap smear can help detect cervical cancer early. During this test, cells are scraped from the opening of the cervix and examined under a microscope in order to find abnormal changes, and when these are found, the cervix is examined using magnifying lenses and a biopsy of the cervix tissue is taken in order to determine the extent of the abnormality and type of change,” he added.
Dr. Marwan added, “the earliest stage (stage 0) of cervical cancer is the carcinoma in situ, where abnormal cells are found in the cervix. In this stage, these abnormal cells may transform into cancer cells and spread to the surrounding normal tissues.”
According to Dr. Marwan, during the first stage, which follows stage 0, cancer is found in the cervix only. This stage is divided into two based on the amount of cancer cells found. They include finding a very small cancerous mass in the tissues of the cervix, which can only be seen under a microscope because the area of cancer is less than 3 mm deep and less than 7 mm wide. In a later stage, the cancer would enlarge to more than 1 millimeters deep but not deeper than 5 millimeters and not wider than 7 millimeters.
According to the Health Authority Abu Dhabi statistics, more than 35 women in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi only get diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, most of which are between 35 and 55 years old. Moreover, more than 55 cervical cancer cases are registered every year in the UAE.
Furthermore, studies have indicated that 8 out of every 10 women are prone to getting infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV) once in their life, but most of them recover on their own with no symptoms. However, the infection may develop in other cases within 10 to 20 years, causing abnormalities in cervical cells, which eventually leads to cervical cancer.