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Medical Experts Urge Early Detection and Vaccination for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer in the UAE

According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer ranks fourth for both incidence and mortality amongst women worldwide. The UAE is no exception, with cervical cancer the fourth most common cancer among women and the fourth leading cause of death in women according to the Department of Health Abu Dhabi.

Dr Mai Ahmed Al Jaber
  • The Human Papillomavirus Information Centre of the Catalan Institute of Oncology and the International Agency for Research on Cancer predicts 1.9 million women in the UAE over the age of 15 are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • HPV vaccine has been shown to be highly effective in preventing infection from some of the most common types of HPV. Similarly, screening for early detection of the disease allows for successful treatment and prevention, with survival three times higher and a five-year survival rate close to 96%.

During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, taking place throughout January, Mubadala Healthcare experts are highlighting the importance of vaccination and early detection to increase the survival rate of this disease. Statistics from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Catalan Institute of Oncology’s Information Centre suggest that at least 1.9 million women in the UAE are at risk of developing the disease.

Cervical cancer is highly preventable, according to medical experts at National Reference Laboratory and Healthpoint — both part of Mubadala’s network of world-class healthcare providers. They are urging women to follow the UAE Ministry of Health & Prevention (MOHAP) and the Department of Health Abu Dhabi Guidelines for Cervical Cancer Screening. The updated Guidelines recommend that all females aged 25 to 29 years undergo a Papanicolaou test - also known as Pap smear test - every three years. It is also recommended that all females aged 30 to 65 years undergo a Pap/HPV cotest - where human papillomavirus (HPV) test and a Pap test are done at the same time – every five years. According to the Guidelines, the HPV vaccination is also offered to schoolgirls aged between 13 to 15 years and to all UAE nationals up to the age of 26 years.

Cancer of the cervix is caused by HPV and typically develops very slowly. Early detection, when the disease is in its initial stages and has not yet spread to other parts of the body, requires less aggressive treatment and can result in a survival rate of 96%. However, if left undetected and allowed to progress untreated, the survival rate of this disease drops rapidly and significantly to only 5%.

Dr. Mai Ahmed Sultan Al Jaber, Medical Director and Public Health Medicine Specialist at Healthpoint, said: “Cervical cancer is highly preventable and one of the most treatable cancers. Unfortunately, many women here do not follow the screening guidelines for this disease as set by the local health authorities due to several factors, such as embarrassment, fear of the testing process and uncertainty associated with waiting for the results.”

Dr. Al Jaber continued: “A lot of patients wait until they experience severe symptoms associated with more advanced stages of cervical cancer to consult their doctors. Later-stage diagnosis decreases the prognosis for long-term survival and makes it more difficult to treat the disease. This is why I encourage all women to consult their doctors and have regular gynecological check-ups, know the symptoms and be alert to them, and have regular screening.”

During a Pap test, cells from the cervix are collected and the sample is checked for abnormalities. This test is considered the most effective screening procedure for cervical cancer. Additionally, an HPV test can be performed, which looks for the DNA of human papillomaviruses most likely to cause cancer in cervical cells. Although most HPV infections do clear up on their own, there is a risk for all women that the infection may cause chronic cell abnormalities which then progress to cervical cancer 10. Regular screening is key and supports effective patient management to prevent the disease before it progresses.

Dr. Suhaila Alameeri, Consultant Anatomic Pathologist at National Reference Laboratory and a member of the National Taskforce for Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, said: “The screening tests for cervical cancer are highly successful at preventing the disease but they do require accurate analysis. At the National Reference Laboratory, we implement international best practices for reference laboratory processes and are dedicated to working with the UAE government and local healthcare providers to increase awareness about the disease and provide all women in the UAE access to high-quality diagnostic testing.”

NRL has been the main laboratory services provider for MOHAP’s National Cervical Cancer Screening Program since 2015 and facilitates awareness of the program among the UAE female demographic through ongoing communication and the delivery of targeted SMS campaigns. NRL also contributes towards MOHAP’s workshops for general practitioners and gynecologists on the cervical cancer screening process, with the active participation of Dr. Basel Altrabulsi, Chief Medical Officer at NRL and Dr Suhaila Alamerri, a consultant pathologist at NRL.