Even though more than 95 per cent of cervical cancer cases are preventable, it is still the second leading cause of death among Caribbean women.
The Cayman Islands Cancer Society and Health Services Authority are joining forces in an effort to change that fact.
“Cervical cancer is caused by this virus called the Human Papilloma Virus, HPV as we refer to it,” Dr. Sook Yin, medical director of the Cancer Society, explained to an audience of Rotarians on Wednesday.
“The global incidence of HPV is tremendous,” she said.
The primary defence against the virus is the HPV vaccine, which is given as a course of three injections administered at intervals over a six-month period.
To show her support of the initiative, Cancer Society summer intern Rushell Reid, 21, rolled up her sleeves to get her first dose of the preventing vaccine recently.
“I am from the Caribbean and I am studying to be a doctor. Someday I would like to see the positive effects of this vaccine in my family and my practice,” said Ms Reid. She is lending her assistance to help promote an e-petition to end cervical cancer.
“We want everyone to go online and sign this petition,” Dr. Yin said. “We need to end this cancer that is preventable.”
Although HPV is spread primarily through sexual contact, it can be spread by other means as well.
Dr. Yin explained that the prevalence of HPV is increasing around the world due to a lack of awareness, sexual initiation at younger ages and increased global travel.
“Now, with regional travel, this virus is flying around the world – business class, I think,” she said.
Unlike other sexually transmitted diseases, the spread of HPV cannot be combated through use of condoms.
“This is the one virus from which condoms cannot protect you,” Dr. Yin said. “HIV? Yes, but not this.”
The Cancer Society and HSA partnered to administer free HPV vaccines in government high schools last year.
Despite the fact that there are more than 1,000 girls of age to take the vaccine, just over 200 took part in the programme.
“The parents are not buying in; the teachers are not buying in because people like us are not talking about it enough for them to really get a grip on things,” Dr. Yin said.
The vaccine is relatively new to the market and Dr. Yin suspects that both its novelty and the sexual connotation of the disease contributed to the low number of participants.
“This is the first main barrier against the virus itself,” Dr. Yin said. “We must look at this as a cancer-prevention vaccine rather than anything else.”
HPV guards against several of the most prevalent strains of the virus but it is not comprehensive and women still need to protect themselves against cervical cancer through routine pap smears.
Dr. Yin explained that the standard guideline for women in the Cayman Islands is one pap smear at least every two years starting from age 21 or earlier, depending on your sexual activity.
“The Cancer Society is also playing a role in this by issuing free pap smear vouchers to the ladies who do not have insurance or the ability to pay,” Dr. Yin said.
In addition to receiving the HPV vaccine and regular pap smears, Dr. Yin also recommends that young women try to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to maintain an active immune system.
“Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, you’re eating healthy foods, you’re not overdoing it by burning the candle at both ends,” she said.
More information about cervical cancer and how to sign the petition is available on the Cancer Society website on www.cics.ky and its Facebook page.
“We need everyone to read the information and join the fight to protect our mother, sisters, wives, daughters and friends,” Dr. Yin said.
The Cancer Society and the Health Services Authority will be providing free immunisations against HPV in government high schools during the next school year as well.