“Cervical cancer is a problem that not only affects women, but the entire family. There is a lot of emphasis on reducing maternal deaths, that is to say, pregnancy related deaths. But what happens to those women who die from cervical cancer? They also leave behind family, children left without a mother now even more vulnerable to violence, poverty, and malnutrition, among other things.” –Michelle Dubon, WINGS´ Medical Director
In many countries, the incidence of cervical cancer is kept low by regular screening. In Guatemala, where an effective countrywide screening program is lacking, cervical cancer is responsible for 60% of female cancer cases attended by the INCAP Cancer Institute in Guatemala City.
In fact, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related death among Guatemalan women. Risk factors such as multiple births with little spacing between pregnancies and becoming sexually active at a young age put women in greater danger of developing cervical abnormalities.
“The sad fact is that this cancer does not appear overnight; the natural course of this disease takes up to 20 years. That is why no woman should die of cervical cancer; there are so many methods to detect and treat it in time, which is why our efforts and resources should be focused on helping these women.” –Michelle Dubon, WINGS´ Medical Director
Where screening programs exist, cervical cancer mortality has been reduced by 90%.
WINGS has been providing cervical cancer detection and treatment services since 2001. Beginning with 840 Pap smears in 2001, the program has grown fivefold and now provides up to 4,000 screening tests annually, as well as needed follow-up treatment. Over the course of 15 years, WINGS has screened over 50,000 women for cervical cancer.
Through our Cervical Cancer Program, WINGS ensures that Guatemalan women living in hard-to- reach and often forgotten rural areas receive vital information, cervical cancer screenings, and follow-up treatment when problems are detected.
In 2006, WINGS started to use an alternative method of detection and treatment called VIA/Cryo or “see and treat”. This method involves using acetic acid to visually inspect the cervix and the provision of cryotherapy treatment all in one visit (VIA/Cryo). It is a very effective, low-cost technique, which allows for immediate detection of cell abnormalities and treatment if necessary, eliminating the need for women to return for results or a follow up treatment. It also presents fewer logistical and technical constraints than the Pap smear.
In 2015, Veronica, 21 years old and a mother of two, came to a WINGS clinic to get a long-term method. After listening to the information talk given by WINGS nurses, she also decided to be screened for cervical cancer. She was nervous to get screened and afterwards shared, “Before today, I didn’t know this kind of cancer existed. I had my first child at 18, so I was nervous to get tested because I learned that being sexually active at a young age is a risk factor for cervical cancer. Thankfully, my result came back negative.”
And most recently, this year 87-year-old Maria had her first screening ever. A mother of 12, she encouraged her daughters and daughter-in-laws to attend as well. In her own words, Maria “wanted to be a good example.”
As reproductive health is considered a taboo topic in Guatemala, many women are uncomfortable learning and talking about cervical cancer. During an informational talk given by our nurses in Quiché, a province in northern Guatemala, women immediately lowered their heads and stared at the ground when the nurses showed photos of a cervix with cancer and a cervix without cancer; this made them very uncomfortable. One brave woman explained that most women were not interested in getting a screening because they had heard it involved their cervix being taken out, and they were very afraid of the pain. Our nurses thoroughly explained the actual process of a cervical cancer screening and why it is so important and in the end many of the women agreed to get screened.
On the other hand, women shared with WINGS nurses during a clinic last week in Santo Tomás Milpas Altas, that they understood the importance of being screened and had in fact gone to their local health center to get screened, but three months later they are still waiting for results. Every time the women call, the health center staff say that “the results aren’t ready yet”. Sadly they are used to this; the health center is continuously behind in their work, and in the end never provide the women with the help they need. During the same clinic, a few women mentioned that when they went to get a screening in the health center near their village, they were given a toothbrush and some form of liquid, and were told to insert the toothbrush themselves. That was the extent of information and instructions they were given. Thankfully WINGS was able to provide these women with accurate information about the screening process and immediate results after using VIA/Cryo.
How can you help? Support WINGS, and your donation will allow us to reach even more women in these remote communities with cervical cancer information, screenings, and immediate cryotherapy treatment.
Your donation of $100 provides 12 women in Guatemala with a cervical cancer screening, saving lives! YOU can help us reach over 3,500 women just this year with vital cervical cancer screenings.