'One Less Worry' campaign launched to spread cervical cancer awareness

Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling (centre) with Ms Lau Lu Ching (left), member of the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships, and Dr Ida Ismail-Pratt, technical adviser for the Alliance for Active Action Against HPV. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

SINGAPORE - Every month, six women in Singapore die of cervical cancer, which is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths among females in their 30s here.

Yet, despite the condition being highly preventable through vaccination and screening, the uptake of screenings here remains low, at about 45 per cent of the general population.

A year-long awareness programme, which was launched by the Alliance for Active Action Against HPV (A4HPV) on Saturday (March 5), aims to tackle that, among other issues.

The leading cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). Of the more than 200 types, 14 are deemed high-risk. Type 52 accounts for 15.4 per cent of cervical cancers, while Type 58 is linked to 42.5 per cent of high-grade cervical lesions in Singapore.

These rates are double that of the global average.

Pre-cancerous HPV is most prevalent in women aged from 30 to early their 40s. Yet it is also this age group that is the least receptive to screening, said Dr Ida Ismail, technical adviser at A4HPV, at the launch of the "One Less Worry" campaign that marks International HPV Awareness Day 2022.

A4HPV is a group that aims to eliminate cervical cancer here.

The year-long campaign aims to raise greater awareness through activities, such as community mural paintings that contain key messages on how everyone can play a part to tackle cervical cancer.

A4HPV also came up with a song titled One Less Worry and choreographed a Bollywood zumba fitness dance for it, with the People's Association's Women's Integration Network roped in to reach out to more people.

The #onelessworry campaign here is led by the International Papillomavirus Society, which has endorsed A4HPV as its Singapore partner.

Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling said on Saturday at the launch: "Almost all of the cervical cancers are caused by HPV. The first line of defence... is through HPV vaccination.

"To encourage this, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has included HPV vaccinations in the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule and the National Adult Immunisation Schedule."

The Screen for Life programme by MOH and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) encourages more Singaporeans to go for health screenings, including for cervical cancer. Since September 2017, subsidies have been enhanced to boost affordability.

The vaccine is available to both women and men aged from nine to 45. However, MOH's HPV vaccination programme is available only to women up to 26 years old.

Women between 25 and 29 should go for a Pap smear once every three years, while those between 30 and 69 should take a HPV DNA test once every five years.

Readers can find out more at the A4HPV website.

On HPV and cervical cancer:

- Cervical cancer is the 10th most common female cancer and the ninth deadliest female cancer in Singapore.

- Cervical cancer is the ninth leading cause of death in Singaporean women.

- Between 2014 and 2018, there were 1,088 newly diagnosed cases and 355 Singaporean women died.

- 99.7 per cent of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, which infects both men and women.

- Unlike women, men's chances of getting HPV do not decrease with age. HPV is also the main cause of penile cancer and oropharyngeal cancer (a type of head and neck cancer) or throat cancer in men. HPV can cause genital warts, which show up as a small bump or group of bumps around the skin of the genitals and anus.

- Many women do not know that HPV tests and vaccinations are heavily subsidised here. HPV vaccination is available for both women and men aged from nine to 45.

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