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Preventing cervical cancer

Getting vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most “preventative intervention” against developing cervical cancer, according to Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Shawn Charles.

Noting that many developed countries “are now talking about the elimination of cervical cancer,” which can be possible through vaccination against the sexually transmitted infection HPV, he told The Grenadian Voice in a recent interview.

The American Centre for Disease Control recommends the HPV vaccination be given to children starting from 11 to12 years, but “can be given starting at age 9 years. All preteens need HPV vaccination, so they are protected from HPV infections that can cause cancer later in life. Teens and young adults through age 26 years who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series also need HPV vaccination.”

Dr Charles observed, however, that such advice is not easily accepted in Grenada. Noting that “it is understandable” that many Grenadian woman “are not willing to entertain” the vaccination for their children, he said public education about the vaccine is essential. Overall, the level of health education must improve.

“There are young girls whose parents are refusing to vaccinate them today; and they could develop cervical cancer maybe 30 years from now as a result of infection with HVP,” advising that girls from nine to 11 years should get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, women are advised that regular screening through Pap tests for early detection improves chances of successfully treating cervical cancer, which is a leading cause of death from cancer in Grenadian women, second only to breast cancer.

He noted that the Pap test is meant to detect precancerous lesions that are caused later on as a result of HPV or other infections. He advised also that results from Pap smears are processed within two weeks at the General Hospital.

“But if you can prevent the persistent infection that can lead to the abnormal changes, then you have gone a long way in preventing these women in the first place from getting cancer,” he explained.

Changes of acquiring HPV increase with early sexual activity, multiple sexual partners and a weakened immune system.

The CMO said it is important to educate oneself about these and other health risks.

“The level of health literacy in the country is frightening. I can guarantee you that health literacy or the lack thereof is probably the leading cause of death in Grenada,” he suggested; and urged all to seek professional health care and follow the advice they receive. Otherwise, they are “causing irreparable harm to themselves.”


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