Screen for cervical cancer, take HPV vaccine

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Dr Adesh Sirjusingh –

Director of Women’s Health at the Ministry of Health Dr Adesh Sirjusingh urged women to do Pap smears and screen for cervical cancer as early as possible.

Sirjusingh was speaking at the ministry’s virtual covid19 briefing on Wednesday.

He said Pap smears are available throughout TT at health centres, and vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is known to cause cervical cancer are also available.

“Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable types of cancer,” he said. “There is screening, (and) vaccination programmes that are highly effective.”

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, he said, adding that it is the fourth most common form of cancer among women of all ages in TT. It is also one of the most common cancers seen in women under 50.

“Cervical cancer can be described as an irregular growth of cells in the cervix, which may invade other tissues in the body.”

He said more than 99 per cent of cases are associated with HPV.

“Similar to the covid19 virus, we have identified the (HPV) virus and have a vaccine for it.”

He said screening programmes have also improved and there is a global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer by 2030 with vaccination, improved screening, and improved treatment.

Sirjusingh said HPV vaccines have been in TT since 2013 and are free to the public, for both men and women.

The vaccine is available for those aged nine-26. He said women from 21-29 should have a Pap smear every three years. Women 30-65 should also have a Pap smear every three years, or every five years if their HPV test is negative.

Women over 65 who have had regular screening and are not at risk for HPV and cervical cancer no longer need Pap smears, he said.

When asked about the side effects of the virus on women’s menstrual cycles, Sirjusingh said a large-scale study, published this month in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, showed an increase of approximately less than a day in women who had been given the second dose of the covid19 vaccine. He said in those cases, the cycle normalised after six months.

Sirjusingh said the US-based study had population data of 24,000 cycles in 4,000 women. He said while there is a slight change, it is short-lived and does not affect long-term health or fertility. Sirjusingh also said in 2021, there were eight deaths among pregnant women, five of whom had covid19 and were unvaccinated. In 2022, there was one maternal death of an unvaccinated woman.

He said outside of the pandemic, there are three-four maternal deaths in TT a year.

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