Dubai: Be open – rather than shy or scared – about any changes in your body. And don’t wait and ask when you have any questions. This is the advice a cervical cancer survivor living in Dubai has for her teenage daughters and others.
Filipino mother Maricris, 39, had consulted a gynecologist at Aster Mankhool Hospital in September 2021 with a history of abnormal vaginal bleeding lasting for a month.
“My experience was challenging,” Maricris recalled in an interview with Gulf News.
“I had a very painful abdomen, heavy and constant bleeding and anxiety that later turned into depression.”
Maricris faced concerns about the impact of her illness on the lives of her teenage daughters: Francine and Ella, now 20 and 18, respectively. “I worried about them.”
When she consulted the gynecologist, Maricris was referred to the oncology department, where she underwent an extensive diagnostic process, including ultrasound, MRI, PET-CT, and a biopsy.
What the diagnosis revealed
The diagnosis revealed stage 2b cervical cancer, explained Dr Sivaprakash Rathanaswamy, Consultant Surgical Oncology and Head of the Department of Surgery and Oncology at Aster Al Qusais Hospital.
After a multidisciplinary team discussion, he said, it was planned that Maricris would receive simultaneous chemoradiation followed by brachytherapy.
“This approach aligns with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines, where concurrent chemotherapy and brachytherapy are classified as a category 1 recommendation for stage 2b cervical cancer,” explained Dr. Rathanaswamy. .
Following successful treatment, recent PET scan results indicating Maricris is disease-free are positive for his prognosis and overall survival.
“Follow-up appointments for Maricris are scheduled every three to six months for the first two years, followed by six to 12 monthly appointments for the next three to five years. Thereafter, annual visits will be recommended based on the risk of recurrence,” said Dr. Rathanaswamy.
The time he spent in the hospital during his treatment caused Maricris to miss out on a lot.
However, she is a different person now and is grateful to the medical team who saved her life. She also expressed her gratitude to a friend of hers who supported her during her treatment and to her family who prayed for her.
“I am living a happy life now. I have told my daughters to be open, not to be shy or scared, and to tell me if they have any problems or feel anything different in their bodies. My daughters and I talk about my treatment and they have empathy. They are happy that he survived so that we can be together and do things together. They support me emotionally, show their gratitude, and give me endless love and care.”
‘Do not be afraid’
“My message to all women is to seek help, don’t be scared and get checked immediately. Don’t wait too long if you feel any pain, discomfort or any symptoms like mine. Please go see a doctor.”
A changed Maricris has now prioritized her health. “Now I have regular check-ups, eat healthy foods and exercise. In the past, I would only get checkups if I felt something was wrong. Yes, I have changed; Now I go for periodic checks.”
Vaccination, periodic examinations.
He urged parents to ensure their daughters are vaccinated against cervical cancer at the correct age.
Vaccination, regular screening and early detection contribute significantly to prevention, high cure rates and overall survival, Dr. Rathanaswamy said.
Highlighting the importance of early detection of cervical cancer, he said: “For women aged 21 to 29 years, cytology is recommended every three years, and for those aged 30 to 65 years, cytology alone every three years or co-test with primary HPV every five. “Years are recommended.”
After age 65 or a hysterectomy for indications unrelated to cervical cancer, he said no screening is recommended.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines and their role in preventing gynecological cancers were the focus of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Conference held at Arab Health 2024 recently held in Dubai.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease responsible for most cervical cancers. The virus causes cervical neoplasia that is classified into three stages. HPV is detected in 99.7% of cervical cancers and it can take more than ten years for cervical cancer to develop after contracting HPV.
Dr. Stephanie Ricci, MD, a staff physician in gynecology and oncology at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, who shared insights on successful HPV vaccination programs around the world, said Gulf News: “The HPV vaccine covers nine of the highest risk strains of the HPV virus. We know that HPV 16 and 18 account for approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers. The vaccine is incredibly effective at preventing cervical cancer in countries with a national vaccination program. “These programs have eradicated cervical cancer and vaccinate both boys and girls between the ages of nine and 12.”
Who needs to be vaccinated?
It was in 2016 that the World Health Organization recommended vaccinating all girls to prevent cervical cancer. The goal is to vaccinate nine out of ten girls worldwide to eradicate cervical cancer.
“Girls between nine and 12 years old get vaccinated because that is when we know that the vaccine has the most significant effectiveness. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the HPV vaccine in women up to age 45. The vaccine also protects against two types of HPV viruses that cause genital warts. Therefore, while it does more to protect women from cervical cancer, when children are vaccinated, it also protects them against genital warts,” Dr. Ricci explained.
According to a Global Cancer Statistics study conducted in 2020, cervical cancer numbers are increasing worldwide and it is now the fourth most common cancer in women.
That same year, cervical cancer accounted for an estimated 604,000 new cancer cases worldwide and 342,000 deaths, and the study showed that 84% of cervical cancer cases came from regions where there were no screening programs. detection available. Alarmingly, women in resource-limited countries are the most likely to be affected, with cervical cancer being the second most common cancer and the third most common cause of cancer mortality in these regions.