January is cervical health awareness month, and the Health Services Authority is encouraging women to protect themselves from cervical cancer.
The HPV virus is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer, and the HSA told Cayman 27 it can be prevented with regular pap screenings and the HPV vaccine.
“The biggest thing is that it is preventable, it’s the only preventable cancer,” said HSA OBGYN Dr. Rhonda Reeves.
Dr. Reeves said cervical cancer can be prevented through regular pap screenings and vaccination against HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer.
“50% of sexually active persons in their lifetime have an HPV infection, the big thing about it, you don’t know when you have it because there’s no symptoms: so what we do as a part of our screening, when we are doing a pap smear screening we can actually test you,” said Dr. Reeves.
The HSA advises women to start getting regular cervical cancer screenings at age 21, and for parents to ensure their pre-teens receive the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12.
“It’s something that’s going to protect them in the long run when they do eventually become sexually active, so it’s not anything that is like promoting sexual activity, it is actually preventing you from getting something that being sexually active exposes you to,” said Dr. Reeves.
Jen Weber of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society told Cayman 27 the HPV vaccine, known as Gardasil, is available to both boys and girls through private doctors.
“We have been doing this free and public schools for gosh six or seven, maybe even longer years now,” said Ms. Weber. “The private doctors have an arrangement with us where they can get the vaccine at a reduced cost, and then they pass the savings on to people.”
Only nine cases of cervical cancer have been reported to the Cayman Islands Cancer Registry, leading registrar Amanda Nicholson to believe it is under-reported.
“I think it is, yeah. I would really like to see more women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer take the time to report it to the registry so that we could get a more accurate picture of her disease impacts our community,” said Ms. Nicholson.
Dr. Reeves told Cayman 27 she hopes by raising awareness of this preventable disease, more will be screened and vaccinated against it.
“Eventually we can literally have no cases of cervical cancer if we get our screening and preventative measures in place correctly,” said Dr. Reeves.
The HPV vaccine will be offered at no cost to year seven girls ages 11 and 12 at John Gray and Clifton Hunter high schools – no child will be vaccinated however, without parental consent.
The vaccine will also be available for all children age 11 to 17 by appointment at the Public Health Department and at Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac.