Cancer is one of the leading causes of mortality around the world. Among women, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer, which is also the leading type of cancer found in women in India. The biggest problem that women of our country face is the taboo that surrounds everything that centralizes around their genitals or breasts. Even talking about problems related to their genitalia is an obstacle which not many are able to overcome. Thus, women who develop a cancer of the uterus don’t even get to see a doctor till they reach the final stage, from where there is no turning back.
Researchers from the Tata Memorial Centre and National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health started a research to make identifying this malignant tumor of the cervix easier. For the research, more than 500 women aged between 30 and 50 with no history of any cancer, who were physically and mentally fit and menstruating regularly, provided their pads for analysis during the two-year research period. The women participating in the research were asked to store their sanitary napkins or cloths from the first day of their menstrual cycle in zip lock bags. These bags were then collected and stored at -20 ℃ and then sent for diagnosis.
Using molecular biology the samples collected were tested and the women who were tested HPV positive were then identified for further screening. Although the procedure sounds easy, the research still didn’t get the support it required. The taboos that surround menstruation in India served as some major roadblock that had to be overcome. Firstly, even talking about menstruation is not acceptable. Second, women who are menstruating are not allowed to leave their house after sunset in many areas, which made sample collection difficult. Many and more such superstitions that surround menstruation have now become life-threatening for the women of our country.
One of the major causes of the increasing problem relating to the female genitalia is the lack of proper sanitation. While many households in the rural areas lack a toilet, where they are present, the conditions are just as bad. When the toilets don’t have a roof, it becomes difficult for women to maintain proper hygiene. On top of that, there is a lack of education with regards to proper hygiene in the first place. The use of cloth over sanitary napkin serves as a breeding ground for germs and viruses. All these problems need to be tackled if we hope for a future that is healthy for these women.
While the initiative of Dr. Atul Budukh’s research team is commendable, they believe that it still isn’t a 100% success, as only menstruating women can be screened under this. In order to achieve our cancer elimination goals, we need to start tackling the problems from the ground level. The level from where although there seems no direct connection to the problem, all these issues find a base. Let’s start by changing people’s minds and ridding them of superstition. That is women empowerment in a true sense and something that is worth our consideration.