How telemedicine can aid the fight against cervical cancer
Close-up view of female doctor's hand that holds speculum instrument.

CERVICAL cancer is the second most frequent cancer affecting Jamaica women aged 15-44 as of 2021. This type of cancer affects the cervix which is a part of the female reproductive system and grows slowly over time. The good news is, yearly screening, early detection and vaccines are all ways in which cervical cancer can be controlled.

The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus and connects the uterus to the vagina. It is covered in tissues made up of cells that grow and change. Sometimes, these can become abnormal. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the HPV virus forming cancerous cells in the cervix.

Abnormalities of the cervix can be detected, destroyed and removed before it reaches the cancerous stage. If detected too late, they can spread or grow deeper causing great damage and discomfort. Symptoms of concern include vaginal bleeding between periods, pain during intercourse, pelvic pain and unusual discharge. These symptoms are also common to various ailments of the female reproductive system. Therefore, it is necessary that women over 18 do a yearly Pap smear test with their gynaecologist to ensure any abnormalities are detected.

With this type of cancer affecting such a large population of women, it is crucial that greater access to resources for prevention and early detection are made available to women across the island. Telemedicine platforms, such as MDLink, are one such resource that can aid in limiting the number of women affected by cervical cancer in Jamaica. The following are key ways telemedicine can aid in the fight against cervical cancer:

Early detection

Early detection leads to a decrease in death and disease of cervical cancer. If you believe you are experiencing issues aligned with early signs of cervical cancer or HPV, reaching out to a gynaecologist online may be a useful first step. MDLink can serve as your first step in assessing the symptoms you are experiencing in order to determine if you should be further tested for cervical cancer (through a Pap smear, HPV test or pelvic examination) or if it can be ruled out with another diagnosis. Additionally, your physicians can send over a prescription virtually to help ease your symptoms without you ever having to go in office. Taking advantage of the services MDLink has to offer may save you the time and money for an in-person gynaecologist visit.

Efficient follow-up

After a positive HPV screening or an abnormal Pap smear, you and your doctor can utilise telemedicine to take advantage of out-of-office care and advice. These results do not necessarily suggest that you have cancer and your gynaecologist can discuss with you what the results mean and what your next steps will be. Next steps may include surgery, self-examinations, medication and/or additional screenings. Telemedicine allows you to meet with your doctor via telephone, video call or audio call, all while in your office, home or car — wherever is most comfortable and convenient. It is an advantageous next step, particularly if your follow-up care is not emergent.

Increased access to specialist care

With a shortage of specialists concentrated in urban areas, telemedicine allows those who live in rural areas or outside of busy cities to also gain access to the same level of specialist care with a gynaecologist. Patients are able to know they are getting the best treatment with the most experienced doctors all without the inconvenience of travelling far for assessments and treatment.

Easy access to professional advice relating to vaccines and treatment

The HPV vaccine is one of the main preventative treatments that women aged 18 and older can take to prevent these cell changes and reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Telemedicine can be the starting point in speaking with your doctor about the safety, efficiency and side effects of taking this vaccine.

Ensuring that our women have reliable, convenient and safe access to modern health care is vital to a healthy nation. Cervical cancer affects our mothers, sisters, aunts, friends and family and telemedicine platforms such as MDLink seek to ensure that everyone, regardless of their age or social standing, has access to the highest standard of specialist care. Limiting the cases of cervical cancer will ensure long and healthy lives and telemedicine is just one tool which can be taken advantage of to support our women.

Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at drchebowen@themdlink.com.

Dr Ché Bowen

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