Health Minister Datuk Seri S. Subramaniam said that only 40% of local women undergo the pap smear and urged for more alternative methods for cancer treatment to be researched and proven scientifically.

He cautioned against seeking traditional alternative methods and advised patients to confirm that treatments have been approved by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

“Traditional medicine must present proof scientifically that it is working if any of the cancer patients decide to seek alternative forms of treatment,” highlighted Dr Subramaniam, in his opening remarks at the National Gynae-Oncology Conference 2017, on 29 September.

“Countries like China and India have made increased scientific research in their alternative medicine. In Malaysia, more research needs to be done,” he added.

Screening for HPV is better than pap smear

In Australia, for instance, a study of 4,995 women has proven that screening for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is significantly better at detecting potential precancerous cells compared to the traditional pap smear.

“We found that the HPV test was substantially more effective at picking up high-grade abnormalities compared to the pap test,” said Prof Karen Canfell, director of research at Cancer Council New South Wales.

This has been implemented into Australia’s new national cervical cancer screening programme that eliminates the need for women to have a pap smear every two years.

Commencing 1 December, Australian women from the age of 25 (instead of 18) will be required to have a five-yearly HPV test, replacing the two-yearly pap test.

Estimates suggest that the new screening programme would lower cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates by at least 20%.

Comparing the pap test to the HPV screening, the overall detection rate was 0.1% versus 2.7% respectively, proving a “significant” increased detection of high-grade precancerous cervical lesions – including those who have been vaccinated against HPV.

“This adds to existing evidence about how much more accurate and effective HPV screening is,” asserted Prof Canfell. “We now have a superior method for detecting not just the virus that causes cervical cancer, but also high-grade abnormalities.”

Cultural reasons contributing to low test rate

Many Malaysian women, due to cultural reasons have not even registered themselves for the basic pap-smear test.

“Do not be ashamed to check on your health. There are several government clinics available for pap-smear tests including mobile clinics,” encouraged Dr Subramaniam as he assured that “privacy is also taken into consideration as all clinics, hospitals and mobile clinics are equipped with the necessary tools to make sure patients feel comfortable during the procedure.”

Cervical, ovarian and uterine cancers are the top ten cancers affecting local women, according to the Malaysian National Cancer Registry for the years 2007 – 2011. The MOH has taken several measures to prevent cancer such as the free Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination in secondary schools for female students. MIMS

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