Cervical cancer is a significant public health concern globally, and Hong Kong is no exception. This type of cancer, primarily caused by persistent infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), poses a serious threat to women's health. However, the good news is that cervical cancer is highly preventable and can be detected early through regular screenings. Here in Hong Kong, where our healthcare infrastructure is well-developed, there are traditional and non-invasive screening options available, ensuring that women can proactively manage their gynecological health at any age.
Cervical Cancer: The Basics
Cervical cancer develops in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Persistent infection with high-risk types of HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. The progression from HPV infection to cervical cancer is slow, often taking several years, providing a window of opportunity for early detection and intervention.
Screening Methods in Hong Kong
The most common screening test is by pap smear, which involves collecting cells from the cervix to check for abnormalities. In addition to pap smears, HPV testing is gaining popularity. This test directly identifies the presence of high-risk HPV types, allowing for early detection and intervention.
The government in Hong Kong provides affordable screening options. Great. But, unfortunately, screening rates remain very low. Why? According to KLF, it’s a combination of lack of time, stigma, and not knowing where and how to access services.
Let’s Make it Easier
Co-testing is the new international standard and it’s available in Hong Kong. This means combining a pap smear with HPV testing. The downside? If you don’t ask for it from your healthcare provider, you may not be offered it. So, be sure to ask.
Urine Testing and Sanitary Pad Testing
This is the biggest thing to happen to female gynecological health for a long time. Urine testing, menstrual blood testing and other non-invasive methods are on the rise. Stay tuned for more on how you can access these services in Hong Kong.
How We’re Moving Forward
In addition to government-led initiatives, NGO, the Karen Leung Foundation (KLF) works to save lives in Hong Kong by raising awareness of gynecological cancer, educating women to increase rates of early detection and ensuring that women in treatment have access to optimal medical care. Founded in 2013, KLF is the first and only organisation in Hong Kong solely devoted to women's gynecological cancers and has raised more than HK$35 million to fight gynecological cancer and help Hong Kong girls and women.
Tips for Gynecological Health in Hong Kong
Katharina Reimer, executive director, KLF says “We need to normalise conversations about gynecological health and wellness. Apart from regular screenings, taking a proactive approach to gynecological health is crucial (and not as scary!). At KLF, we care about helping women access screening, advice, and support so that we can put a stop to cervical cancer”.
KLF’s Tips For Women in Hong Kong to Stay Well in 2024
1. Regular Check-ups: Schedule your screening in advance and get ahead of your reproductive health in 2024. Your pap smear and sexual health screens can be easily booked at the Family Health Service or with KLF (contact them to check if you’re eligible). Remind your family and friends to do the same, especially those busy moms who put everyone else first!
2. Vaccination Against HPV: Consider getting vaccinated against HPV, especially for young individuals who haven't been exposed to the virus. HPV vaccines are effective in preventing infection with high-risk types of the virus. Lots of schools offer vaccination programmes. If you’re not sure about how to get vaccinated, contact KLF for free, confidential advice.
3. Safe Sex Practices: Practice safe sex by using barrier methods, such as condoms, to reduce the risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted infections. Remember that HPV can be transmitted even if you aren’t having sex and can exist in same sex relationships. So, everyone should be careful and get screened regularly.
4. Don’t Forget Your Self-Care: Remember that self-care is more than just long showers and exercise. It’s also about managing stress, getting regular health screenings, and ensuring you get help for your health and wellness. Help, advice, and support are out there!
5. Get Taught! It’s easy to be misinformed and make assumptions about our gynecological and sexual health. Go online, follow accounts like KLF on Instagram and share the knowledge with your friends and family. Knowledge empowers women to make informed decisions about their bodies and encourages women to get more regular screenings.
Cervical cancer is a preventable health issue, and Hong Kong's healthcare system offers accessible and non-invasive screening options. Through a combination of awareness, education, and proactive healthcare measures, cervical cancer can be significantly reduced, ensuring a brighter, healthier future for women in Hong Kong.