More women are being screened for cervical cancer with pap smear tests but the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) believes the disease, the eighth-most common cause of cancer deaths among women here, can be eradicated.
Dr Ravindran Kanesvaran, vice-chairman of the society, yesterday announced plans to encourage girls and younger women to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.
Between 2011 and 2015, more than 200 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in Singapore each year. Cervical cancer was the cause of 70 deaths here per year.
A vaccine, which costs more than $100 per dose, can prevent the disease. Two to three doses are usually required, depending on the age of the recipient.
The HPV Education and Immunisation Programme, which will be rolled out over the next three years, aims to raise greater awareness of cervical cancer prevention and encourage girls aged nine to 26 to go for HPV vaccination.
Dr Kanesvaran said there is a need for better outreach and education, citing local studies that have shown poor uptake of HPV vaccination among young people, as well as a lack of knowledge of cervical cancer and the vaccine that has been around in Singapore for about a decade.
He added that the SCS will reach out to about 4,000 secondary school girls through talks in schools over the next three years.
He also said the society is committed to providing the vaccination for free for up to 2,000 needy beneficiaries between the ages of nine and 13 for the next three years.
American healthcare firm MSD is sponsoring the first 350 doses of the vaccine to kick-start the programme.
Funding for the outreach activities and vaccinations will come from the Tote Board.
Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, and the Environment and Water Resources, who was at the event yesterday, encouraged Singaporeans to protect their own health.
"Taking immediate steps is important," she said, pointing out that this was especially so since the HPV vaccination has a recommended window for females of between nine and 26 years of age.
This is because the vaccine works best only before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV, which is generally transmitted sexually.
More than 100 people attended the event at the SCS' Cancer Rehabilitation Centre in Jurong.
The SCS currently provides free pap smear screening at its clinic in Bishan as part of efforts to detect cervical cancer early. Since the service began in 2016, more than 40,000 women have undergone checks.
Madam Dianna Tan is glad her 12-year-old daughter, Chloee Lee, received the vaccination at the event yesterday.
"My mother passed away last year due to cervical cancer, which had spread all over her body. I didn't expect her to get it," said the 53-year-old, who went for a pap smear and mammogram screenings at SCS' clinic last year.
"That got me worried for my girl, so I decided to take up the offer to get her vaccinated, since it is good for her at a young age and cervical cancer can be prevented," said the sole proprietor of a bookkeeping and secretarial company.