Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in India in women between ages 15 and 44. Around 122,800 new cases are diagnosed annually in the country, according to a recent report from the Catalan Institute of Oncology about the human papillomavirus (HPV). VFF treats more than 20 new patients a month with cervical cancer.
Exposure to HPV is a leading risk factor. For rural women with irregular healthcare diagnoses is difficult as symptoms for HPV often go undiscovered for years. VFF has seen more than 1,600 advanced cases. Women experiencing back pain, fatigue, pelvic pain, bone pain, and other symptoms have been able to have minor surgery to remove HPV cysts which are among the best ways to prevent loss of life.
“Every day I bled a little. I had a period twice a month or so, since my sister is a nurse in the hospital, I decided to go for the tests. My cancer had advanced to stage two, so they had to treat me with radiotherapy and chemotherapy in Hyderabad,” says Shalini Susma, 36.
The late detection of the problem lies in the lack of personal awareness of the women about the importance of gynecological examinations, in addition to ignorance and social customs that relegate the wellbeing of the woman to a male figure. This causes many of them to come to the hospital when the cancer has already encountered the last stage. According to the results of a multi-institutional study initiated under the National Cancer Registry Program in India, around 38,700 patients with uterine cancer in India do not benefit from radiotherapy and chemotherapy and therefore have lesser survival. The lack of awareness about the necessity of this therapy is what makes them arrive at the hospital too late to be treated.
“Until recently, women could not go to hospitals alone without the approval of their husbands, who only gave them permission when they could not bear the pain any longer,” says Dr. Jyothy, a gynecologist from the Bathalapalli hospital.
Moved by the poor state in which the villagers arrived at the hospital, Dr. Jyothy began to work with this type of cancer 6 years ago. “Early diagnosis is very important because the cancer takes a long time to develop, about 10 years. With a simple pap smear we can diagnose HPV and prevent cancer,” says the doctor.
This was the case of Pushpavatti, 42, who “had a lot of hip pain and blood spotted discharge” but never thought that that could point to cancer. Pushpavatti was lucky and they detected it in time. The hospital was put in contact with her and in less than a month they removed her uterus with a laparoscopy, eliminating any remaining cancerous tissue.
Depending on the size of the tumor, its location, the state of the patient and if they want to have children, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy are all considered as treatments. Although VFF hospitals do not have the resources for radiotherapy, all patients received referrals and support to government services.
Early detection has been key for the improvement of the survival rates. The preventative work of VFF USA is not limited to the hospital network. Every Friday a team formed by 3 doctors and a gynecologist visit the villages and towns where, in addition to giving informative talks about the affliction, they carry out pap smears. In each rural visit around 100 people are examined by medical personnel, who take their data and digitalize it in order to contact them in case it is necessary.