Every year around 21 women die of cervical cancer in Bhutan

This is the leading female cancer in Bhutan is preventable with early detection

Cervical cancer is the leading female cancer in Bhutan.

It is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be contracted through sexual contact. However, there are many types of the HPV virus and not all cause cervical cancer.

According to the health ministry’s Deputy Chief Program Officer, Tshewang Dorji Tamang, 229 women were detected with cervical cancer from 2012 to 2016. Of this number 154 were referred to Kolkata, India, and 84 died.

“Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it’s found early. It is usually found at a very early stage through Papanicoloua test (Pap test),” health minister Tandin Wangchuk said.

“Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time. An infection may go on its own but sometimes it can cause genital warts or lead to cervical cancer. That is why it is important for women to have regular Pap test. A pap test can find changes in cervical cell before they turn into cancer. If you treat these cell changes, you may prevent cervical cancer,” Lyonpo said.

The minister said that despite the free availability of Pap test in the country, most of the cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed at a late stage. Therefore, education to increase awareness of risk factors and promotion of early diagnosis are important aspects of prevention and control of this largely preventable cancer.

According to the MOH statistics, overall, 76.4 per cent of women aged 20-59 years were aware of the Pap test. The awareness of Pap test varied from 90 per cent in Thimphu, Bumthang and Trongsa to 49 per cent in Samtse.

The report also states  that 45 per cent of women aged 20-59 years had undergone a pap test at least once in their lifetime. Women aged 30-39 years followed by 40-49 years were most likely to have undergone a pap test at least once compared to other age groups. Those who have undergone a pap test are almost 17 per cent higher among the urbanities compared to women residing in the rural areas

More than half or 54.5 per cent of women who had Pap test were among those with no education. Only 3.6 per cent of those with university or diploma level education reported having undergone pap test which may suggest other socio-cultural factors as determinants of pap test. 88 percent of those who had pap test are married which may be attributed to the fact that currently the pap test is routinely offered to pregnant mothers visiting maternal and child health clinics in Bhutan, the report says.

According to research by Ministry of Health, women who did not undergo Pap test even once in their lifetime were asked reasons for not doing so. The most common reason cited was they never heard about it. The other commonly cited reasons included pain or embarrassment followed by being too old or too young.

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