Cervical cancer screening in the heart of Jakarta

After several weeks in the Netherlands, I returned to Indonesia last week. I traded the Dutch autumn for the warm, somewhat clammy weather in Jakarta. I have been told that the rainy season can start any moment, but to be honest, I don't think anyone really knows for sure. The seasons are "confused" here too....

Well, to the point. After some visa formalities upon arrival, there was a screening campaign last Saturday at a church in the heart of the city. As we were setting up, there was singing by the See & Treat team, a wedding was going on in the room next door, and above us a yoga class. A strange sensation when you stop to think about it....

Seventy women were screened for cervical and breast cancer that day by a trio of highly experienced midwives. Some came for the second time and immediately managed to put the other women at ease: "it really only takes five minutes

The layout of the screening site; tables on which the women are examined, curtains for privacy and buckets for waste, such as cotton swabs used to dot the cervix with vinegar to detect abnormal cells. 

and is really not as scary as you think," we heard frequently. Gynecological health is taboo here in Indonesia. However, when women are among themselves, a flood of questions often emerges, punctuated by giggles and occasional outright laughter.

None of the women showed abnormalities suggestive of the early stages of cervical cancer. However, one woman did have two non-painful, firm irregular lumps in one of her breasts, with no skin abnormalities, nipple changes or enlarged axillary glands. She was referred to the hospital for further examination.

Cervical cancer and breast cancer are the two most common cancers in women in Indonesia, which is why screening for both is done simultaneously here (breast cancer initially by physical examination).

This coming month is "Cervical Cancer Prevention Month," and screening and treatment is frequent throughout Indonesia. The Female Cancer Program Jakarta also has several trainings for doctors and midwives scheduled, including in Sorong (West Papua), Batam and Aceh (North Sumatra). All of this in the context of the pillars of capacity building and sustainability. So get to work!

Alicia Lucardie
September 2017
Jakarta, Indonesia