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Cervical cancer in Cambodia, prevention, diagnosis and treatment

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Dr Preap Ley is the surgical director at Sihanouk Hospital Centre of HOPE. Heng Chivoan

Cervical cancer in Cambodia, prevention, diagnosis and treatment

Worldwide, 500,000 women suffer from cervical cancer each year, 80 per cent of them from developing countries. At least 200,000 of these women will die, and 75 per cent of those deaths will be due to those women not receiving any healthcare at all for their cancer.

With Cambodia experiencing rapid economic growth, living standards are improving and Cambodians are enjoying higher incomes and increased opportunities. However, less attention is being paid to healthcare, and few Cambodians are spending money for preventative services and health check-ups. Dr Preap Ley, Surgical Director at Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE (SHCH), is hoping to change that.

SHCH receives over 45,000 patients each year, and by December 2018, SHCH has provided healthcare services to more than 1.4 million people.

Dr Ley is quick to say that the majority of patients treated at SHCH are in a very late stage of illness. This means that their chance of survival is lower, and the costs for treatment are higher. With early detection and treatment, patients are more likely to recover and go on to live long, healthy lives.

This is especially true of cervical cancer, says Dr Ley, which is a top killer of Cambodian women, but is easily treatable when found in early stages, and in many cases is even preventable with a vaccination.

“Based on the patients we see at SHCH, the number of cervical cancer cases in Cambodia is increasing. If cervical cancer is in the first stage, we can do a fairly simple operation to remove it, and the chance for survival is high,” Dr Ley shared.

“However, most ... patients come in seeking treatment or screening far too late, when the cancer is already in third or fourth stage."

For those patients, my heart breaks. Treatment options are limited, and include referral for chemotherapy at Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital.”

“Cervical cancer is often caused by HPV (human papilloma virus), a sexually transmitted infection,” Dr Ley explained. Those at highest risk of contracting HPV and developing cervical cancer are sexually active women ages 20 – 30.

Dr Ley urges all women to get regular cervical screening every three years during this age range, so that any cervical cancer can be detected as early as possible.

And the best thing to do in order to prevent cervical cancer? Children aged nine to 12 years should receive the HPV vaccination.

“SHCH works to ensure that all Cambodians have access to quality healthcare,” Dr Ley concluded. “We cannot stress enough how important it is for our people to take care of their health. Get regular screening, get early treatment, and live a long life for your family.”

The SHCH was founded in 1996 with a mission to provide free, high-quality medical care to the poor and disadvantaged of Cambodia, while training the next generation of Cambodian health professionals.

Higher-income patients pay for selected healthcare services like lab tests and non-donated medications, and are only required to and are only required to pay what they can afford.