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A letter to my future self on cervical cancer

Protecting yourself from cervical cancer is a lifelong journey. PHOTO: ISTOCK
Protecting yourself from cervical cancer is a lifelong journey. PHOTO: ISTOCK

Note to self: You can take actions to protect yourself and your loved ones against cervical cancer

Dear future me,

Happy 30th birthday! I know you’re probably really busy celebrating this special day with your family and friends but I just wanted to remind you about something equally important.

Remember when you were a teenager and Mum brought you to our family clinic for a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination when it was first introduced in Singapore?

At that time, you barely knew what HPV was and much less why it mattered to Mum that you got a shot at such a young age.

You read all the stats but it mostly flew right over your head: HPV is a fairly common virus — with over 100 different strains — that most people (both men and women) will get at some point in their lifetime. Our bodies are usually able to clear the infection on its own, but at least 14 of these strains can lead to cervical cancer by causing long-lasting infections in women.

But now that you’re older, it finally all makes sense — the vaccination helps to protect you from cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers in Singaporean women.

Parents would do anything to keep their child out of harm’s way, and Mum was no different. Getting you vaccinated several years ago was her way of protecting you from something that you can be protected against.

So when was the last time you went for a cervical cancer screening? Last month? Last year? Years ago? Well, I hope you’ve been going for it at least once every three years. News flash: The risk doesn’t just disappear after the vaccination — like how nothing in life is absolute.

Cervical cancer is more than 90 per cent treatable when detected early

You might be thinking that you are not at risk yet. But like any other illness, there may not be obvious signs and symptoms. You may feel healthy now, but you never know what’s happening on the inside. They say that what you don’t know won’t hurt you, right? Well, not exactly. In this instance, what you know earlier could save you.

Remember when Jane’s friend was too afraid to go for screening? By the time she discovered that she had cervical cancer, it was already Stage 4 and too late. On the other hand, Jane’s own decision to go for regular Pap tests helped her to discover the presence of abnormalities later revealed to be cancer. Discovering it early helped her get treated effectively.

Bottom line: Be like Jane.

A Pap test is a simple procedure. More importantly, it can save us.

But now that you’re 30, you probably should be going for an HPV test instead of a Pap test. It will check if the cells collected from your cervix has high-risk cancer-causing HPV strains. While your cells may appear normal, the presence of high-risk HPV strains suggests that the risk of cells turning abnormal in the future is higher. (Yes, I have been doing a lot of reading and research, and you’re welcome.)

According to the Health Promotion Board, this is a more effective test for females like yourself after 30. In your twenties, your own body can easily clear most infections and doing an HPV test may lead to some unnecessary follow-up tests.

There is also no difference in costs in the long run between the Pap and HPV test rates. But while a Pap test is done every three years, an HPV test needs to be done only once every five years. How convenient!

It is so easy to put something like regular screening on the back burner when there are so many other things competing for your time and attention. In the same way Mum has been looking out for you all those years ago, continue to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Don’t forget to make sure Mum goes for her regular screenings too. It also doesn’t hurt to encourage your friends and other family members to screen as well.

I know that there’s no way that you’ll be able to write back to me, but writing this letter is my way of reminding you to continue to take care of yourself.

Cervical cancer can be prevented. Mum started this journey to protect us against it: it is now up to you to continue the journey.

I know you can do it.

Happy birthday, and may you have many more birthday celebrations to come.

With love,
Me

For more information on cervical cancer screening, visit healthhub.sg/cervical-screening or call 1800-223-1313.