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The curable cancer killing Pacific women

LATE detection and late presentation contribute to the high number of women who die from cervical cancer in the Pacific each year.

The HPV Information Centre reports that an estimated 1,268 Pacific Island women died from cervical cancer last year. The rate of diagnosis and death is highest in Melanesia, followed by Polynesia and Micronesia.

“The fact that it is curable and yet still able to claim a lot of lives in Fiji, across the region and all around the world is really saddening,” said Pacific Society of Reproductive Health President, Dr Pushpa Nusair.

In Fiji, cervical cancer is the third main cause of mortality in women; the leading cause of cancer death among reproductive women; and the leading cause of mortality in all cancer types.

“The biggest problem that we have in Fiji and in all the Pacific is that women tend to present us in the very latest stages where we cannot do very much for them,” said Dr Nusair.

She said by that time, medical officers can only offer patients palliative care. 

Prevention and treatment of cervical cancer has been a stated priority of the Pacific Islands Forum for several years. Forum Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor has called it development issue, “albeit largely perceived as a women’s reproductive health issue.”

The World Health Organisation recommends vaccination against the cervical-cancer causing human papillomavirus (HPV) should be included in national immunisation programs, initially targeting girls 9-14 years of age, before extending to 9-18 years.

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