Protection against cervical cancer starts NOW with HPV vaccination and regular Pap smear tests.
Some things happen for a reason. Events may bring us face to face with a few uncomfortable truths about ourselves. They may even make us aware of our vulnerabilities. What matters is that we respond positively and seize the opportunity to make ourselves better and stronger to face the future.
For Atiqah, her moment of truth came when Kak Long developed cervical cancer. Atiqah was there when her favourite elder sister broke the news to the family. The initial shock and disbelief quickly gave way to a flood of tears.
In the months that followed, Atiqah watched her sister suffer. Kak Long could not tolerate the radiotherapy very well. Every dose ended up the same way – with lots of vomiting and feeling very sick for days on end. It seemed as though the treatment and the disease were fighting over her body, and Kak Long was caught in between.
Slowly, the facts came together in Atiqah’s 26-year-old mind. Kak Long’s ordeal had begun with bouts of pain, like period cramps but much worse. Then, there was the abnormal discharge. The doctor had said that Kak Long was very fortunate to detect the cancer early and she had a very good chance of survival.
But Atiqah wondered how Kak Long could develop the disease? At 32, wasn’t she just too young? More important, if it could happen to Kak Long, could it happen to Atiqah and her other sisters, too? Atiqah decided to consult Aunty Nora, a medical doctor.
“I’m happy you asked, Atiqah,” Aunty Nora exclaimed. “I wish more young women, like you, enquired about cervical cancer because it’s the 3rd most common cancer in women in Malaysia1 and it can happen to any one of us.
Aunty Nora then explained that 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by high risk Human Papillomavirus or HPV2. “Fortunately, it is quite easy to avoid getting infected by HPV. All you need is to get 3 doses of HPV vaccination over a period 6 months3.”
Atiqah asked, “Isn’t that the same type of vaccination that the Ministry of Health gives to 13-year-old girls in schools?4” Aunty Nora replied, “Yes, but you are a bit too old now so you will need to get your shots at a private hospital or clinic5.”
Atiqah thought for a moment and quipped: “So, once I’m vaccinated, I will never ever get cervical cancer?” Aunty Nora proceeded to set the facts straight in her niece’s mind. “Vaccination greatly reduces your risk of developing cervical cancer. But current HPV vaccines help protect against HPV-16 and -18 which causes 70% of cervical cancers2.”
“This is why doctors advise that all sexually-active women, aged between 20 and 65 years, should go for regular check-ups called a Pap smear test6. It involves taking some cells from your cervix. If they are growing abnormally, the doctor will put you on the necessary treatment to prevent your condition from worsening.
“I know you are going to ask whether the Pap smear test hurts. Well, it may cause a little bit of discomfort but I’m sure you’ll be fine. So would you like to come to my clinic and get your HPV vaccination and Pap smear done?”
“Oh, definitely not! I’d be so embarrassed. Why don’t you recommend another doctor and I’ll make an appointment to see her. I think you’ve helped me a lot, Aunty Nora. I’ll surely share this with my sisters and my friends.”
- Ministry of Health Malaysia, National Cancer Registry Report 2007, Malaysia Cancer Statistics – Data and Figure.
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine- Preventable Diseases: The Pink Book, 12th ed. CDC 2012.
- National Cancer Institute (NCI), Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines, 2011. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/HPV-vaccine, (Date accessed: 31 October 2014)
- Ministry Of Health Malaysia Cervical Cancer Prevention Program portal, Pelalian HPV, http://myservik.gov.my/, (Date accessed: 31 October 2014)
- Othman NH and Rebolj M, Challenges to Cervical Cancer Screening in a Developing Country: The Case of Malaysia, Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention 2009, Vol 9
- Ministry of Health Malaysia MyHealth website, Ujian Saringan Kanser Serviks, http:// www.myhealth.gov.my/index.php/organ-pembiakan/ujian-saringan-kanser-servik (accessed 30 October 2014)