Pap smear: Cervical screening remains taboo in Turkey

Pap smear showing clamydia in the vacuoles

Looking at the facts offered by the WHO, the HPV virus which causes cervical cancer is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract and the majority of sexually active people will be infected at some point in their lives – the Australian Cancer Council puts this figure at 80% of adults. With over 100 types of HPV, most infections go away by themselves; however, a small portion of strands can lead to the development of the second most frequent cancer in women. While it is largely assumed to be transmitted through direct intercourse, it is a virus which can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and therefore requires a much greater level of awareness amongst wider society.

Discussing such a topic is seen as almost admitting to behaviour not suited to females, or even worse admitting to the possibility of being “infected”. Speaking to one or two of my Turkish girlfriends, they breach the topic with caution and as they become more comfortable speaking on the subject, they then admit that they initially refrained from sharing the news with their own husbands due to the associated stigmatism.

If they were unmarried, I may have been less surprised…Turkey is unfortunately a country in which women’s rights are arguably limited, the majority being confined to the private sphere in which they must play the role of housewife and mother, subservient to the dominant male in the household and such topics are painted as taboo. While it would be incorrect to generalize, for a portion of these marriages enduring infidelity is another part of this and this puts largely unaware women at even greater risk considering that more than 85% of cases occur in developing countries.