Cervical Cancer Awareness Month…introduces the Brachytherapy procedureBy Lakhram BhagiratThe Cancer Institute of Guyana announced that it would be offering free Pap Smear screening for the month of January in commemoration of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.The Institute is urging all women to come forward and take full advantage of the free screening since early detection of cervical cancer means a higher chance of survival.Dr Syed Mujahid Ghazi and Dr Sayan Chakraborty standing next to the Brachytherapy machineThe Cancer Institute’s Outreach Director, Dr Syed Ghazi at a press conference on Tuesday said that cervical cancer was the second most common cancer in women in Guyana, and noted that it was often detected too late. He adds that the Institute screens over 1000 women per year for cervical cancer.Dr Ghazi informed that Cervical Cancer is now at endemic proportions in the Caribbean and Guyana, but noted that the Cancer Institute continued to work with its Caribbean partners with the aim of eliminating cervical cancer by 2025.“From the beginning what I noticed, I saw women coming in later stages and we couldn’t have been able to do anything, but slowly and gradually now we see less and less numbers of those with higher stages of cancer and we now see people walking in to come for screenings,” he noted.“A lot of times these patients’ signs and symptoms are not taken seriously by general physicians. Many times, they cannot comprehend what the symptom is leading to and many times the delay happens when the women go from one doctor to another and those are the cases where we get later stages of cancer,” Dr Ghazi added.Meanwhile, the Institute’s Medical Director and Oncologist, Dr Sayan Chakraborthy, noted that he would endorse the Pap Smear over VIA for testing for cervical cancer.“The basic difference between VIA and Pap Smear is that in VIA we are actually putting some acetic acid on the cervix and noting the colour change of the cervix. It is an effective process of screening and it is used in a lot of places in many countries. Now what Pap Smear does is it actually takes scrapings of the cervix and vagina, putting it on a slide and seeing it under a microscope,” he said.“Pap Smear is more specific in finding precancerous or cancerous lesions. We are actually seeing it under a microscope and having a better knowledge of it,” Dr Chakraborthy added.He advised that if women were seeing abnormal discharge and pain or bleeding after sexual intercourse, they must immediately seek attention since these were some of the signs of cervical cancer.The Pap Smear is done seven days after you would have seen your period and one must abstain from sexual intercourse three days before the appointment.Stop self-treatingDr Ghazi used the opportunity to warn against relying on herbal medicine to cure various forms of cancer. He added that he has nothing against the herbal treatments along with spiritual approaches, but noted that relatives should not advise patients to abandon the conventional medication and treatment.“When they come to us after six months or five months, they are at a higher stage where they cannot come back and we see it every year. Every year, I lose three or four women. I am telling you, last year I lost three of my breast cancer patients because they were distracted from the treatment,” Dr Ghazi noted.He said that millions of dollars have been spent on research and development of the conventional treatments and urged patients to ignore those who warn them that chemotherapy and radiation therapy would kill or burn them.“I beg people, I request of people if you want to advise somebody, advise them you can use them together with the treatment. You can add it but for God’s sake don’t tell people don’t do the treatment,” he added.Brachytherapy treatmentThe Cancer Institute has since boosted its cervical treatment services with the procurement of a Brachytherapy machine aimed at significantly reducing the instances of remission. The machine was procured almost five months ago and has been operating with favourable responses ever since.The treatment of cervical cancer comes in three stages and includes chemotherapy, external radiation and internal radiation.The Cancer Institute’s Medical Director, Dr Chakraborthy, said that with the acquisition of the Brachytherapy machine, Guyana was now on par with international treatment specifications. He noted that the machine was not only for the treatment of cervical cancer, but can be used for a variety of other cancers’ treatment, adding that the primary focus for now was the treatment of cervical cancer.“With this particular new machine we can pinpoint our treatment to the tumour and the tumour alone providing safety to the surrounding structures. We have introduced this; we have rolled it off and we have started the treatment,” he said.Brachytherapy or internal radiation is the final part of cervical treatment. The Brachytherapy machine is fully computerised.Dr Chakraborthy added that since the installation of the machine, they have conducted over 50 applications on over 22 patients and were seeing favourable results.“I did a study from March 2013 to March 2015 on 100 patients of cancer where we did not have the Brachytherapy procedure, but the other modalities and unfortunately, we found that about 35 per cent of the patients came back with the cancer even after having the complete treatment with the other modalities,” he noted.Dr Chakraborthy said that this number should decrease with the new treatment method.Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women, and is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). If detected early, it can be treated and completely eliminated.