India bears the huge burden of cervical cancer, while the rural women suffer the most from it, because of the lack of access to the advanced medical services. Most of the women in rural India use homemade cloth pads during menstruation. To add to the agony, still, there is a lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene
After considering this problem faced by the rural women researchers from Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) and National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) designed a mechanism for a cervical cancer screening. In the rural areas, they asked local health workers to collect the menstrual pads used on the first day of the periods. Later these pads were brought to Mumbai and were screened for the infection of cervical cancer. Tests were carried out to detect the presence of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer.
Dr Atul Budukh Assistant Professor Epidemiology at TMC and a lead researcher in the project said, “Earning bread and butter is priority of the Indian rural women. They can’t afford to lose the wage of a day just to be screened for the detection of cervical cancer. So, I proposed a screening process which will not require them to invest a day. We collected sanitary pads on the first day of menstruation to diagnose cervical cancer.”
After collecting from the women, they are preserved at -20C using dry ice till they were brought to Mumbai.
This study was carried out for 2 and half years, in 15 villages in Pune district (Maharashtra). Before commencing this extensive study, a pilot study was done in Jamkhed village in Ahmednagar district (Maharashtra). “In these two studies, we collected total 557 samples of sanitary pads out of which 24 women were tested positive for HPV and 6 of them were identified for the pre cancer lesion. We called these women for treatment and now they are on a regular follow up,” informed Dr Atul Budukh.
Cervical cancer is now the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in females worldwide. India is the second most populous country in the world. The deaths due to cervical cancer account for 27% (77,100) of the total cancer deaths in the country according to the data published by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Dr Budukh informed, “Women need to be made aware about the importance of menstrual hygiene. In our society, mother teaches the daughter not to visit religious places but doesn’t educate her about the menstrual hygiene methods which are of utmost importance.”
According to Dr Ashwini Bhalera-Gandhi a consultant gynecologist at Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai, there is no solid research which can prove that the cervical cancer is caused by the poor menstrual hygiene. “But lack of menstrual hygiene can cause other infections as well, so a proper hygiene has to be practiced. Also, there is lack of general awareness about cervical cancer. Most women don’t even know that it is preventable by vaccination,” said Dr Ashwini Bhalerao-Gandhi.
The study revealed a shocking observation. It states that the rate of changing sanitary pads daily of participant women is merely 1.33 %. Which means women change pad only once in a day.
How to maintain menstrual hygiene if you are using cloth pads:
- Change the pad at least thrice-a-day
- Wash the cloth pads properly
- Dry these cloth pads in sun rays