x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Health Authority Abu Dhabi introduces cervical cancer testing scheme

Women aged between 25 and 65 will be targeted and offered a Pap smear on a regular basis.

ABU DHABI // Health authorities are launching the UAE's first organised screening programme for cervical cancer.

It is the second most common cancer among Abu Dhabi women, even though it is preventable.

Sexually active women between 25 and 65 will be offered a regular Pap smear by the end of this month, said Dr Jalaa Taher, head of cancer control and prevention at Health Authority Abu Dhabi, or Haad.

"Like other cancers, the rate is increasing worldwide and even locally," Dr Taher said. "With HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccination and the screening, we should prevent it through this.

"In other countries, screening with the Pap test has reduced the incidence of new cancer cases by 80 per cent."

The programme is being offered by about 25 private and public healthcare centres. Until now, the test has been given only to women who have requested it, or infrequently, such as after giving birth.

"There was no clear guidelines about it," Dr Taher said. "There was no agreed age on when to start, the frequency to record them - all of this we have set for this programme, so all the providers should know the target audience, the frequency of the test and what type of test is the standard."

Women aged between 25 and 49 will have the Pap smear every three years and those aged 50 to 65 every five under the initiative.

"We have agreed with the facilities who are providing this service that part of their role is to set up an invitation system," said Dr Taher.

That system could involve text messages, phone calls or local campaigns.

The test costs about Dh100 and is covered by Thiqa, the national insurer for Emiratis, she said.

Expatriates are urged to check their insurance, although Dr Taher encouraged insurers to include it as standard in their plans.

Sixty-one new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in Abu Dhabi in 2011.

The screening programme is aiming for a 60 per cent reduction in the number of cases within five years, and a 20 per cent reduction in deaths from the cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes more than 99 per cent of cervical cancer and another tool in the battle against the disease is vaccination. HPV vaccination prevents 70 per cent of cases, said Dr Taher.

It is recommended that females receive the vaccine before becoming sexually active. A vaccination programme for girls aged between 15 and 17 was introduced by Haad in schools in March 2008.

Next month the authority will begin a catch-up programme for women aged 18 to 26 who did not receive any or some of the three doses that make up the vaccination.

The three cost a minimum of Dh600 to Dh700, Dr Taher said, adding that it was also covered for Emiratis under Thiqa, but not for expatriates.

ecleland@thenational.ae