– CIG Director
By Rehana Ahamad
With a large percentage of the adolescent population being sexually active, medical professionals are beginning to diagnose much younger women infected with cervical cancer.
Medical Director of the Cancer Institute of Guyana, Dr. Sayan Chakraborty highlighted that the majority of his cervical cancer patients are below the age of 30.
“I have seen patients who are even as young as 18 years-old. Some are 22 years of age, 25 years of age, 30…these are women who are very young,” the oncologist explained during an interview with Kaieteur News.
According to a publication from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, all women are at risk for cervical cancer. However, it occurs most often in women over the age of 30.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main risk factor of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse.
The document explained that most sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.
While the early stages of cervical cancer may not come with signs and symptoms, the advanced stages may cause vaginal bleeding or discharges that are not normal. This includes bleeding soon after sexual intercourse.
According to Dr. Chakraborty, a young girl can be infected with the HPV virus even during her first sexual experience.
“A lady, before the age of first sexual intercourse, should therefore receive the HPV vaccine,” the CIG official said.
He went on to laud the efforts of government to offer the vaccination to school aged children, saying that it is likely to reduce the growing number of women with cervical cancers.
“HPV not only causes cervical cancer, but it can also cause anal cancer and even head and neck cancer, because the HPV virus may also be transmitted orally, during oral sex,” Dr. Chakraborty informed.
He said that the Cancer Institute has many patients infected with oral cancer, but medical science has not been able to detect which resulted from infected oral sex.
While the use of condoms does not fully protect against contracting HPV, it does significantly lower the risks of being infected.
General Manager of CIG, Fiona Legall, bemoaned the country’s state, as it relates to children being sexually active.
“You see, the social problem in Guyana, we have 12, 13, 14, 15-year-olds being sexually active already,” she pointed out.
The existence of cervical cancers in younger Guyanese women also brings into focus, the relevance of a comprehensive revamp of the sexual education curriculum being offered in schools, since large numbers of youths are recipients of inadequate guidance about sex.
This was made abundantly clear during a ‘snap survey’ conducted last year by the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), which revealed that 50 percent of Guyanese youths are sexually active. Large numbers of them were also engaging in risky sexual behaviour. Approximately 35 percent of 392 respondents were under the age of consent, and some 20 percent of them even reported that they were either raped or coerced into sexual activity.
Along this line, there have been many calls for a comprehensive review of the sexual and reproductive health courses being taught in schools. Making the most recent call was Peace and Governance Practitioner, Lawrence Lachmansingh.
He believes that the consequences of the Ministry’s outdated abstinence approach are clear indications of the changes that need to be made. Relevant to note also, is the fact that Guyana is known for its appallingly high rate of teenage pregnancy.
“Sex education should not just be about the mechanics of sex…my parts and your parts, and how the two parts fit, and what happens when the two parts fit,” Lachmansingh had said.
Only recently, the Ministry of Education, backed by several non-governmental organizations embarked on an initiative aimed at lowering the risks of sexual behaviours among the country’s adolescents.
One of the components of the programme involves deploying counselors into approximately 33 schools in Georgetown.
Patricia Sheeratan-Bisnauth, head of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), had told this newspaper that the sessions in schools are expected to comprehensively tackle about 13 topics.
“The counselors will be talking to the students about controlling their sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, moral values, personal development, the different types of abuses, including sexual abuse and gender justice and so on,” Sheeratan-Bisnauth said.
It was explained that the programme, which promotes safe sex, is expected to minimize the existence of risky sexual behaviours. If it is to work as organizers are hoping, this plan will also aid in the fight against sexually transmitted diseases like the HPV, which can cause cervical cancer.
Nonetheless, for those who have already been infected with cervical cancer, emerging technologies have led to less hectic and more effective therapy sessions.
These can be accessed by Guyanese, via the Cancer Institute which recently commissioned its High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy, which replaces the Low Dose Radiation (LDR) treatment that had been in use since 2009.
“With the LDR treatment, the patient had to be immobilized for three long days at the hospital,” Dr. Chakraborty told Kaieteur News during a viewing of the apparatus.
He highlighted that with the new HDR treatment, the same therapy can be successfully administered in just 15 minutes to 20 minutes. “They can go home right after the treatment,” he added.
Chakraborty explained that the multimillion dollar equipment requires the temporary implantation of a catheter, a small plastic tube, directly on the tumor itself.
“Only the tumor will get the required amount of radiation, nowhere else…the other parts of the body will be absolutely safe from the radiation,” the oncologist noted.
Chakraborty highlighted too that after the treatment is administered, a remote controlled program is used to retract the catheter.
The entire procedure, Dr. Chakraborty pointed out, is recorded and monitored by a fully trained medical practitioner, stationed in a nearby room. This is done with the use of cameras.
“This ensures that nobody, except the patient, is exposed to the radiation…not the doctors, not the relatives or anybody…just the patient and just the part of the body that is intended to receive the treatment,” the CIG official said.
Dr. Chakraborty further noted that the treatment upgrade was much needed to complete a comprehensive treatment procedure needed for cervical cancers.
“With the external radiation and chemo treatment along with the HDR, we are confident that we can effectively treat cervical cancer in patients today up to international standards,” he pointed out.
The new treatment, which is administered at the most advanced medical centers across the world, is not only ideal for controlling cancerous tumours, but it also significantly lowers the chances of a recurrence.
“I did a small study which shows that the patients, who did not do the brachytherapy, had a 43 percent chance of reoccurrence of the disease…that is, the disease coming back at the same site,” Dr. Chakraborty noted.
He said that even though the machine was brought into the country with the aim of treating gynaecological cancers like cervical cancer, it can treat many others.
“It can also treat breast cancers and many others,” Dr. Chakraborty posited. As of last month, three persons were treated using the new brachytherapy.
Since its opening in 2006 to last year, the Cancer Institute of Guyana has treated a total of 380 cervix-related ailments. A total of 1,248 persons, both men and women have also received radiation therapy.
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