Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cervical Cancer in Taiwan

Something infuriating: without WHO data, it's quite hard to find information to back up things I hear regarding health in Taiwan.

Damn you, China. Damn you!

Anyway, today a student of mine (who is a medical doctor and researcher) said that cervical cancer rates in Taiwan were the highest in the world - this was because a.) cervical cancer, unlike other cancers, is generally caused by viruses (such as HPV), and Taiwan, being more humid, tends to be a place where women are more susceptible down there to such things*; b.) sex ed isn't good enough regarding STD issues; and c.)  not enough women regularly get the screenings they need to detect pre-cancerous conditions. "Many foreign women come to Taiwan," she said, "and if they stay for a long time more of them get cervical cancer than average. It is surprising."

This is not something I'd heard, and I do think such information is important not only for expat women in Taiwan but for Taiwanese women, as well. So I did some Google-fu, but I am a poor apprentice indeed.

We have Pfizer Facts, whose Google blurb notes that cervical cancer rates are higher than average in Taiwan but doesn't seem to have the data to back it up (if anything it looks like breast cancer is a bigger problem), something I haven't finished reading yet, but whose data is possibly out of date and doesn't seem to do a lot of outside-Taiwan global comparison, a blurb of an article I'd like to read but won't pay $31.50 for, another article I need to read more carefully whose Google blurb says that cervical cancer rates are highest in Taiwan, among the Maori and in part of Thailand, and this bit of uselessness from the WHO with no data for Taiwan, because politics apparently trumps world health.

All I can say is that I heard it, and even if it's not true, cancer rates do seem to be generally higher in Asia - so ladies, see your OB-GYN regularly (no excuse - there are ones that speak English, although I don't like how they assume I'll want to have babies) and get the vaccine. It is, so says my student, available in Taiwan, so get it.

*I'm not sure if I quite buy this first one, just reporting what was said


Gabe said...

Hi Jenna, let me know how I can get that article to you (the one where you would need to pay). I have it in e-format.

Amandarama said...

Thank you so much for making your blog a place where such important women's issues can be discussed! I've been in Taiwan for less than a year and I love being able to find the answers to all my questions on here! It can't hurt to get the vaccine - this post has prompted me to go out and be proactive about my cervical health! I love reading Lao Ren Cha!

Jenna Cody said...

Gabe - I don't like to publish my e-mail address, but it's a well-known Indian vegetarian curry made with chick peas (spelled as all one word with no caps) at gmail.

Anonymous said...

Nuns don't get cervical cancer! You have to be sexually active to pick up genital viruses, either herpes or HPV. The more sexual partners you have the risk increases. I am not sure about warm humid weather making things worse. It is probably cold winter weather needing another body to keep warm!!
If the screening rate (from having Pap smears)is low then the again the prevention from early detection is missed. Most women don't particularly like having Pap smears every 2 years. Asian women being very shy would stay away, especially most doctors being male. Yes, ladies have your Pap smear 2 yearly and get the HPV vaccine.

Aussie Tourist

Jenna Cody said...

HPV is not the only virus that can give you cervical cancer, so I've been told. Other health issues that are not necessarily related to sexual activity can also lead to it. I am sure some nuns do get cervical cancer, although I would bet the rate is lower.

That said, I don't know that much about being a nun. I wonder if people who had sex before taking the vow are allowed to become nuns. I wonder if that differs by order and religion.

Gabe said...

Jenna, I’m unsure if I ‘guessed’ incorrectly; I got some reply about the email being powered by Boxbe. When I clicked on a link to deliver the message, the person’s initials for the name was F.S. Is that you? If not, I’ll try to guess again.
Cervical cancer rates are pretty high in many areas especially in countries with very low resources and income. Because HPV is a necessary factor in majority of the diagnosed cervical cancers in the world (it can’t be fully stated with absolute certainty that it’s causing ALL of them…), cervical cancer as a whole is very preventable. Screening and now the current vaccine (despite the high costs… but that’s another story) pretty much can keep incidence and mortality to very low numbers. In the US, a diagnosis of cervical cancer meant an unfortunate outcome in the middle of the 20th century but deaths are pretty low now. I also question and wonder about what your student mentioned re: humidity and the susceptibility of the genital area – but I suppose it is possible (I’m not TOO familiar with cervical cancer as a whole).
However, when you quoted her as saying how many foreign women who come and stay and are more likely to get cervical cancer, my question is “compared to what?” I would argue that these women may have come from areas where cervical cancer incidence is higher. Because cancer in general requires a long period of time to develop, it is possible that these women may have been infected with HPV before having come to Taiwan and then not undergoing annual or biannual screening (for whatever reasons).
From my (admittedly little) knowledge, the culture of cancer in Asia, including Taiwan, has provided many obstacles for many older people (which is when most cancers hit) from undergoing screening and/or treatment especially for cancers which are treatable. In addition, with the changing dietary and lifestyle factors of Taiwan, a lot of cancers that are more prevalent in Westernized and developed countries will be mirrored in Taiwan… you can already see a bit of that in Japan.
But yes! Do get screened. That’s a good thing.

Jenna Cody said...

Nope, definitely not me.

I'm not so much worried about someone getting my e-mail from here and using it to stalk me as someone googling my e-mail and finding this blog (although I suspect that's already possible).

So, it's "channa" and "masala" (but all one word) at gmail (dot) com.

I think that should obfuscate the search engines well enough.