POLAND • At the age of 30, Ms Ida Karpinska received the news that she had cervical cancer. Luckily, thanks to her regular cervical screening visits, the cancer was detected at an early stage and she was able to overcome the disease.
This experience led to her decision to improve awareness about the importance of regular screening for women. She started the Kwiat Kobiecosci (Flower of Womanhood) society which, for the past eight years, has been encouraging Polish women to undergo regular tests.
Part of the campaign involves mobile testing units. The test itself takes only two minutes, and women can drop by and be screened without having to make an appointment. Nor do they need to have health insurance to take a test in the mobile units. "The mobile units screened 308 women in Warsaw this year. One in 10 was found to have tumours," she said.
Kwiat issues coupons in women's magazines and on Internet sites for free gynaecological screening. "Our suggestion is to go for cervical screening on their birthdays, as a present to themselves," said Ms Karpinska.
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To get the word out early, she also goes to schools to raise awareness among girls, and Kwiat volunteers support women who are in gynaecological cancer wards.
The problem of cervical cancer is a serious one in Poland: Even though the government will pay for a prophylactic test once every three years, as many as 80 per cent of women do not make use of this opportunity. As a result, the cancer is often discovered too late. Half of every 10 women in whom it is detected every day die, according to the Polish Oncology Association.
In fact, Poland has one of the highest morbidity rates (an incidence of about 3,000 people per year) and fatality rates in Europe. The number of women dying of cervical cancer in Poland is 70 per cent above the European Union average. Furthermore, the vast majority of cases are due to the human papillomavirus, which can now be protected against with a vaccine.
Kwiat has other activities, like the St Nicholas' Day campaign when women visit cancer patients in hospital. Said Ms Karpinska: "We bring them cosmetic items - lotions, creams, tissues... They are still women, and caring for themselves helps them feel better."
The organisation is not just for women with cervical cancer. Those with ovarian cancer can also find help at Kwiat. "We are busy throughout the year, not just during campaigns, and we're always there to support anyone who asks for it. We work not only with doctors but also with psychologists and sexologists. This is how we give women all-round help," said Ms Karpinska.