Although Hualien County has the lowest prevalence rates of cervical cancer in the country, it also has one of the highest mortality rates, which may be because many people don’t discover the cancer until it is too late, doctors said yesterday.
The Bureau of Health Promotion’s latest statistics show that in 2005, Hualien County’s cervical cancer rate was 8.01 for every 100,000 people, significantly lower than less rural areas.
“Although Hualien’s prevalence rate is low, it doesn’t necessarily mean fewer women have the cancer, because the statistics represent only reported cases,” said Twu Nae-fang (屠乃方), a gynecologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. “Many women may be sick but refuse to see a doctor.”
“Because of Hualien’s geography, the uneven distribution of medical resources and unique living environments, many women don’t have enough information and often don’t realize they have cervical cancer until it is too late,” Hualien County Deputy Commissioner Chang Chih-ming (張志明) said.
Twu urged women to have regular pap smears, and for younger women to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Two HPV vaccines have been approved by the Department of Health and are 100 percent effective in preventing HPV strains 16 and 18 for more than four years, Twu said.
Those two strains account for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers, he said. However, because the vaccine costs about NT$3,900 per shot and is not covered by the National Health Insurance program, some women may not be able to afford it, he said.
The vaccine is given in three shots over a six-month period.
Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical firm has donated 600 vaccine doses to Hualien County for women with a family history of cervical cancer.