Although regarded as the second leading cancer among women in this part of the world, cervical cancer has been accounting for the majority of cancer deaths among women here. This state of affairs continues to be troubling to health care workers even without a system in place to verify the actual number of cases on a national scale.
However, according to Dr. Latoya Gooding, a medical doctor employed by the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation [GPHC], one case of cervical cancer is one too many. It is, moreover, the view of Dr. Gooding, that with each additional case detected, there is an increasing need for efforts to be intensified to not only raise awareness about the disease, but to encourage early screening.
“Early screening saves lives…we have been saying this for years, but we cannot say this enough because this is the reality,” said Dr. Gooding, who has been advancing both awareness and screening through a Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO] she founded – the Giving Hope Foundation.
Attention has been particularly focused on cancer of the cervix by the foundation and other health institutions since this month is recognised as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Cervical cancer, a cancer arising from the cervix, is linked to several risk factors, mainly the Human papillomavirus [HPV], chlamydia infection, early sexual activity, and multiple sexual partners.
Although up to date data is lacking as it relates to cancer in Guyana, the Cancer Surveillance Report of 2015, which highlighted the recorded state of cancer over the period 2003-2012, suggests that there were just over 1,000 reported cases of cervical cancer back then.
Based on that Report, which was conducted by Dr. Morris Edwards, the cumulative incidence rate [CIR] of cervical cancer during the reporting period was 270 per 100,000 population, with Afro Guyanese women marginally accounting for the highest incidence  followed by Indo-Guyanese women . While women of Chinese descent represented the highest CIR [561 per 100,000 population], the survey actually only examined four cases of Chinese women with the disease.
According to Dr. Gooding, who has worked for some time in the Oncology Unit of the GPHC, she can personally attest to the fact that Afro and Indo Guyanese women continue to account for the majority of cervical cancer cases. She however asserted that “based on clinical experience, no race is exempted from cervical cancer…it is across races, some more than others.”
As part of the observance of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, which will culminate tomorrow, Dr. Gooding said that awareness activities have been paramount at the Giving Hope Foundation, located at 15 Drysdale and Ketley Streets, Charlestown. Added to this, a number of outreach activities were held, during which hundreds of women were reached and afforded screening of their cervix.
A tactical activity that was also spearheaded by the Foundation to commemorate the month was a workshop for women and their support system. Speaking of that forum, Dr. Gooding said, “It was an excellent turnout.” This event was held in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and was designed to stress the importance of support when dealing with diseases the likes of cancer.
According to Dr. Gooding, in much the way women are encouraged to do regular self breast examination and mammograms, it is important that women also have regular screening of the cervix. While there are some who opt for the Visual Inspection with Ascetic Acid [VIA] and others embrace the Pap smear, Dr. Gooding is of the view that both are important tests that women should seek to undergo to safeguard themselves.
“The Ministry of Public Health has VIA sites across the country and indeed these are one-stop-shops. Once they test and suspect there is a cancerous lesion…further testing is done. The Pap smear on the other hand is not a one-stop-shop, but it is a process that is a bit more thorough, but persons can do both tests, and there is no harm in that,” said Dr. Gooding.
Even as the month of cervical cancer awareness winds down, Dr. Gooding assured that the general cancer awareness drive will certainly not come to an end, as persons can continue to seek support from the Giving Hope Foundation and other health facilities to ensure that they are screened early to prevent, as far as possible, cancer-related fatalities.
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