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Contact: Molly Derrick, 84.4.39362215 ext. 140, mderrick@path.org.

Hanoi, May 16, 2011—Today, PATH, an international nonprofit organization, and the Ministry of Health’s Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Department are hosting a workshop to present findings and lessons learned from implementation of a cervical cancer screening model in Vietnam. The findings support the widespread use of a “screen and treat” model as a key component of a successful cervical cancer prevention strategy.

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in Vietnam. Screening for early detection and treatment of precancerous cervical lesions is increasingly important in Vietnam, where national cancer registries indicate a rise in cervical cancer. While organized or routine cytology screening programs have led to a large decline in cervical cancer incidence and mortality in developed countries, the current opportunistic cytology-based screening model has failed to have an impact on the overall incidence of cervical cancer in Vietnam.

“More than 5,000 women in Vietnam are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually. Prioritizing screening for cervical cancer will save the lives of thousands of these women who die each year due to this preventable disease,” said Dr. Luu Thi Hong, vice head of MCH Department at the Ministry of Health.

PATH, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health’s MCH Department, has been supporting implementation of a cervical cancer screening and early treatment service delivery model in Thanh Hoa, Hue, and Can Tho provinces. The model is based on visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) for screening, followed by appropriate treatment or referral for more advanced treatment as needed. As part of the pilot, health workers at various levels of the health system were trained in early detection and treatment methods and counseling of clients.

Since the project began in 2009, more than 38,000 women aged 30 to 49 years have been screened in the three provinces. Of the total number of women screened, more than 3 percent screened positive with VIA.

“The screening model has been shown to be both feasible and acceptable to providers and women. It could provide the foundation for a sustainable cervical cancer screening program for Vietnam,” said Mona Byrkit, Vietnam country director at PATH.

The evidence and experiences from this project have helped provide recommendations for updating the national standards and guidelines for cervical cancer prevention. The guidelines will provide practical advice to health care providers at all levels on how to prevent, detect, and treat cervical precancer, including screening techniques, diagnosis, treatment methods, and organization of screening and treatment based at different levels of the health system. The guidelines will be submitted to the Ministry of Health for approval in the coming months.

Vaccines against the primary cause of cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), are the main method of primary cervical cancer prevention; they are currently available and have been demonstrated to be safe and effective in Vietnam. However, the vaccines do not cover all of the strains of HPV, making screening an important component of a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and treatment strategy. Globally, PATH supports a comprehensive approach to prevention and treatment of cervical cancer, including the introduction of vaccines against HPV and screening and treatment strategies.