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A Preventable Cancer

Screenings are often carried out in the communal areas of the villages – the balais, ruais, and remins; in makeshift spaces created with bedsheets.

LAST YEAR ALONE, 120 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed at Sarawak General Hospital. That’s about one new case every three days. Sarawak has the highest prevalence of cervical cancer in Malaysia, and it is the second most common and deadly women’s cancer after breast cancer. In developed countries with comprehensive screening programmes, cervical cancer is not even in the top 20 killer cancer list.

The real tragedy is that more than 90% of those 120 cases could have been prevented. Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus which infects more than 80% of sexually active men and women. Most HPV infections go away on their own without problems but some types of HPV can progress to cervical cancer.

Early detection is crucial because cervical cancer does not present any symptoms until the late stages. By then, the survivability rate would have dropped to 40% or less, compared to a 90% survivability rate at stage 1. However, only 20- 30% of Sarawakian women actually go for screening, and one of the main factors for the low uptake is accessibility, especially in rural Sarawak.

Pink & Teal EmpowHer is a charity non-government organisation (NGO) with a focus on awareness, screening and treatment of Sarawak women for breast cancer (pink ribbon) and cervical cancer (teal ribbon). Since starting in June 2018, we have screened more than 800 women in Bengoh, Bario, Dalat, Garung, Kampung Sebako, Karu, Kampung Annah Rais, Balai Ringin, Siburan, Simuti, Tarat, Tebakang, Teratak, and Kuching.

A significant number of the women we screened had pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions, and were followed up with and given treatment. We also bring in Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists to screen for mouth and nose cancers; dentists to provide dental check-ups; and work with other NGOs to conduct English and computer literacy programmes for the children.

In addition to the rural outreach, we remove obstacles to cervical screening through our “Sigek kitak, sigek kamek; One for you, one for me” campaign. Any woman can order a self-sampling HPV kit (RM150 each) from Pink & Teal EmpowHer, do a swab in the privacy of her own home, and send the kit back to the lab for testing.

Alternatively, she can go to our dedicated clinic and have the nurse/ doctor do the sampling. The test results will be sent to her through Whatsapp within the month, and she will be alerted if any follow-up is required. If the results are clear, she will not have to do any other test (including PAP smear) for another 5 years.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) approved self-sampling HPV kit is painless and easy to use, and more accurate than a PAP smear. For every kit purchased, one kit is donated to a woman in a rural community.

To raise funds and awareness for our outreach and campaigns, Pink & Teal EmpowHer is organising the Pink & Teal Women’s Mini Marathon – the first tutu run in Kuching – on 27th October 2019. Both men and women can support our cause by registering at https://gritevent.com/ wmm/ before the closing date of 26th September 2019.

Abigail Jerip (Obstetrics & Gynaecology Registrar, and clinical lecturer trainee at UNIMAS) is the co-founder of Pink & Teal EmpowHer along with Dr. Mardiana Kipli (Obstetrics & Gynaecology Specialist and Associate Professor at UNIMAS). For more information on Pink & Teal EmpowHer and cervical cancer, contact us at pink.and.teal.empowher@gmail.com

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