Tackling cervical cancer in India: a symposium

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A symposium held on the 18th August, 2012 in Chennai, India, brought together doctors, researchers, government and non-government workers from across India to discuss simple methods for detecting and treating cervical cancer in the community.

Cervical Cancer is the most common cancer in women in India. In 2010, approximately 33,400 women in India died from this cancer, most in rural areas, most with lower levels of literacy and most in the prime of their lives. Yet, if diagnosed and treated early, many deaths can be prevented.

Dr Rengaswarmy Sankaranarayanan, who has led the internationally ground-breaking research in this field, now, the head of screening at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, conducted the world’s first large-scale trials of low-tech screening methods for cervical cancer in India attended. Dr Sankaranarayanan was joined by experts from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu, who have been working towards making this early diagnosis and treatment method available to women.

The meeting was hosted by the Rural Unit of Health and Social Affairs, Christian Medical College, Vellore in collaboration with the University of Sydney, Cancer Council Australia, and Weil Cornell Medical College. This multi-national collaboration was funded by the Australian Government’s Public Sector Linkage Program, part of Australia’s aid program. The symposium discussed ways to improve access to cancer prevention services, ensure that communities receive high quality services and women can improve their health literacy about cervical cancer.

The University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Lyndal Trevena, one of the symposium organisers, commented, "cervical cancer is quickly overtaking birth complications as the number one cause of death in India and many other countries in the world. Many women are not aware that it can be prevented, and the Indian government is quite rightly making it a priority to provide more screening at the community level. We hope that by combining our expertise, we can assist in making this happen and that lives will be saved."

Professor Rita Isaac from CMC Vellore, is one of a group of clinicians that has been conducting and running an ‘Educate, Screen and Treat' pilot project for the past four years – a low teach way of addressing this issue. "For years, many screening tests are field tested and validated. However, women, especially in rural India have very limited access to these tests. We are looking forward to working more closely with colleagues across India and with government to combine forces on this important issue".

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Read an article from The Hindu that also features this program.