When did you last have a Pap smear?

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With the release of a new multilingual video campaign by Cancer Council and PapSmear Victoria, Australian-Indian women are helping to spread awareness about the importance of Pap smears in the early detection of cervical cancer. These women are also helping to beat traditional taboos surrounding discussing cancer and sex in the Indian community.

“Cervical cancer is a very preventable disease but our research shows that some communities may be less likely to screen,” said Dr Hiranthi Perera from PapSmear Victoria, as she introduced the videos to guests present at the recent campaign launch.

“In some communities it is not considered culturally appropriate to speak about these things, so we need to try to break down these stigmas and taboos and ensure that all women have access to cervical screening which could ultimately save their lives.”

The multilingual video campaign is currently available in Hindi and Vietnamese and is the part of a wider campaign that will be offered in seven different languages, to target women from an array of CALD backgrounds. The other five videos will be in Arabic, Cantonese, Punjabi, Turkish and Macedonian.

Shivani Goel, who was one of the campaign participants, spoke about how many from in the Indian community lack awareness about the importance of screenings for cervical cancer detection.

“When I migrated to Australia a few years ago I did not know much about it either and would probably have been too embarrassed to ask. Now I go for regular tests as I realise its importance for my health. I also realised that there is nothing to be scared about and I am glad of this opportunity to spread the awareness to others in my community.”

The Australian Government’s National Cervical Screening Program currently recommends that all women aged between 18 and 70 who have ever been sexually active, should have Pap tests every two years.

However, as the number of women from minority backgrounds who go for testings is quite low, in conjunction with an overall drop in cervical cancer screenings in Victoria, the Cancel Council and PapSmear Victoria launched the video campaign to spread awareness of the importance of Pap smears, and to encourage women to book a test immediately.
According to Dr Perera, the focus groups, research and group discussions leading up to the final launch brought up some common barriers faced by women from Indian and Vietnamese communities. The reflections, thoughts and perceptions from these women were used to develop the content in the videos.

“Our research found that Indian women can be quite compliant with their health, demonstrating an essential trust and faith in the health system and an acceptance of what their GP would recommend,” Dr Perera explained. “There was work to be done around creating awareness about cervical cancer and screenings, which led to this video.”
In Australia, the Indian community is rapidly expanding. India does not have a nationwide screening program, and every year 122,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer with most cases detected in advanced or late stages. Of cancer related deaths in Indian women, 20 per cent are from cervical cancer.
While in Australia cervical cancer screenings are for people aged 18 and over, students in high schools are being encouraged to get the HPV vaccines to prevent cervical cancer in the future.

“It is important for parents to understand the preventative measures of cervical cancer, so that they sign the consent forms that the children bring home from school,” said Dr Perera.

“Getting the vaccine early will make a massive difference to the cervical cancer rates in Australia.” The HPV vaccine is available for free at schools to boys and girls in year 7, who are 12 to 13 years old.

Having discussions with family and friends about pap smears, cancer screenings and HPV vaccines is vital, as this is what will generate greater awareness, understanding and ultimately acceptance, of the preventative cancer measures that can be taken by those in the Indian diaspora.

Preeti Jabbal
Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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