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75 per cent of cervical cancer cases sexually transmitted: Expert

Call for stepping up awareness and education on safe sex

By Kelly Clarke/staff Reporter

Published: Tue 16 Jun 2015, 11:31 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:10 PM

Abu Dhabi - Seventy-five per cent of cervical cancer cases are directly linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV) in the UAE, and with the disease now shifting to younger patients, awareness and education on  safe sex needs to be stepped up here.

“Cervix cancer is the second most prevalent cancer among women here and three quarters of cases are due to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection,” consultant medical oncologist at NMC Specialty Hospital, Abu Dhabi, Dr Mohanad Diab, told Khaleej Times.

As the incidence of cervix cancer continues to increase in the UAE, “it is paramount we reach out to those most at risk”, he said, though spreading the message of safe sex in a conservative region needs to be done carefully.

“We need to communicate with those who are more sexually active, which is generally the younger generations. They need to be educated about HPV and the associated risks, but the message needs to be communicated in the right way for this region.”

Though there is a ‘fair’ amount of awareness going on in schools about HPV vaccinations for young girls, Dr Diab said authorities like Health Authority — Abu Dhabi (HAAD) are best placed to launch additional, effective awareness campaigns on safe sex.

“These government-run authorities can liaison with a number of influential entities to ensure the message is spread correctly, without offending Muslims or their religion.”

In 2014, a United Nations document calling for universally accessible sexual and reproductive healthcare services, information and education — for both adults and adolescents  —  was welcomed in the UAE.

Upon issuing, several representatives from the UAE, including FNC member, Afra Al Basti, said sex education is important but consideration of local customs need to be taken into account.

Regular screening a must

In the West, the Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer which is usually carried out in women over the age of 26, every three years.

If detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers. To combat this disease, Dr Diab said the UAE should steer away from guidelines in the West, and bring in earlier, more regular cervical screening for women here.

“If we look at the guidelines in the West regarding Pap smears, it is based on medical knowledge, but financial reasons too. Commonly, the government funds the healthcare system there, so more screenings would hugely impact the healthcare budget.”

But looking from a purely medical perspective, he said screening should be done yearly, and with most UAE residents under some sort of medical insurance here, this service is more accessible.

“It also has to be done at an earlier age. I would recommend in your very early 20s. NMC is going to initiate a free of charge screening service in September or October, so it really is within a patient’s best interest to be checked regularly.”

Though 75 per cent of cervix cancer cases are diagnosed as a direct result of HPV, Dr Diab said 25 per cent of cases remain idiopathic — of unknown cause. -kelly@khaleejtimes.com

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