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Feb 7, 2019

Healthy Living: Cervical Cancer Treatment

In 2014, we featured the Belize Family Life Association for the work they were doing in detecting and treating cervical cancer in women. It was a novel step of introducing a new test that was aimed at reducing the impact of intense sickness and possible death in women in their reproductive years. Since that time, there has been significant progress in spreading the availability of the affordable screening and treatment method called VIA, which is the short for Visual Inspection with Aceitic Acid. Since February is Cancer Awareness Month, we checked back with the N.G.O. to find out more about the availability and access to this life saving method.


Dr. Cynthia Terry, Clinical Services Director, BFLA

“It’s unnecessary. It’s like an unnecessary death. You should not be dying from cervical cancer.”


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

Doctor Cynthia Terry is the clinic services director at the Belize Family Life Association. Her concern is one echoed across the medical community in Belize – that far too many women are dying from what is preventable and treatable form of cancer. Yet, cervical cancer remains one of the leading cancers affecting women in Belize and one of the top causes for cancer related deaths.


Cynthia Terry

Dr. Cynthia Terry

“Globo-can which reports cervical cancers incidents and mortality globally has reported a decrease in mortality and incidents related to cervical cancer in there last report for 2018. So even though that looks good. We are we still with incidents and mortality that is double than is what is observed in the Latin America and Caribbean region.  In 2012, the Ministry released a report that said the average of diagnosis is 45 for a woman and the average age of death is forty-seven so you’re talking about a woman who is still in a very productive age of her life.”


Australia set a target of eliminating cervical cancer in 2028. If met, they’ll be the first country to successfully do so. Some of the methodologies the Australians are employing are now being replicated in Belize, like the roll out of the HPV vaccine as a prevention tool. In 2014 in Belize, the BFLA introduced a new form of screen and treat method to reduce the number of women losing their lives to cervical cancer.


Dr. Cynthia Terry

“There was a need to introduce a different strategy. We introduced the screen and treat method which is called the VIA and then linking that to cryo-therapy. The screen and treat strategy does is the women is screened the same day we apply in this acetic acid – which is just your table vinegar and it’s done with a wash on the cervix. No magic, if there are abnormal cells, abnormal cells tend to produce more protein and the acetic acid causes these proteins to coagulate and so you have a white precipitate forming and when you flash a white light you’ll actually see an acito-white lesion. What we call a positive VIA results. The provider may actually treat at the same time and we use a treatment technique called cryo-therapy.”


After being treated, the woman returns one year later for a follow-up visit.


Dr. Cynthia Terry

“In the one year visit, we’re screening again using a VIA an it’s more to determine a cure rate. Cure rate meaning there are no lesions present in a year. In our program we have seen maybe ninety-five percent cure rate in women that have come back for the one year follow up. So it’s been very successful.”


Since the introduction of VIA at one BFLA clinic, the N.G.O. has partnered with the Ministry Health to train more medical professionals in VIA testing and it is now available in about twelve other clinics across the country. Now the N.G.O. is adding another test to focusing on identifying the root of the problem, the HPV virus.


Dr. Cynthia Terry

“Cervical cancer is caused ninety-nine point nine percent by the human papilloma virus known as HPV.  More than eighty percent of sexually active individuals will get exposed to the HPV virus in our life. Some of our immune systems might fight it, but it depends on the HPV virus that we get exposed to. We know there are many different subtypes but sixteen & eighteen are the ones that are the most oncogenic or most related to cancer. So HPV is the main culprit of cervical cancer right so we actually acquire the machine at BFLA and we will actually begin HPV testing. HPV testing is already done in Belize, not in country per se but done through private facilities and then sent abroad but now we will be able to do local testing which will make it more affordable and the machine actually screen for fourteen high risk subtypes of HPV.”


It can take five to ten years between the initial exposure to HPV to developing cervical cancer. With the now available VIA test and the new HPV tests about to come on stream in the next few months, the hope is to one day set our own target for the elimination of this preventable cancer. The VIA screen and treat method costs forty-five dollars and takes less than half hour of your time.


Dr. Cynthia Terry

“A woman can come in during her lunch break get it done and go back to work. So it’s not you’re going back to work walking like something bad happens to you. No.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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