Young women are neglecting their health through ignorance of common diseases

Young Greek women know little about how to prevent cervical cancer, according to a survey by the National Public Health School’s health economy department, directed by Professor Yiannis Kyriopoulos. The survey showed that 60 percent of women think they face little or no risk of contracting the disease, which kills 30,000 women in Europe every year. In a survey of women aged between 16-25 questioned between July and August 2006, 55.6 percent of those polled had never had a Pap, or cervical smear, test and 78 percent had not made it part of a regular health checkup. Over half (52 percent) did not know that cervical cancer (human papilloma virus, or HPV) is mainly transmitted through sexual contact; in fact, these women had not even heard of the cancer or the virus that triggers it. They were surprised to learn how easily the virus is transmitted or how common it is. It occurs in some form in up to 80 percent of sexually active women at some time in their lives. Earlier this month Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos announced that a vaccine against cervical cancer is to be administered for free on the national health service for girls aged 12 to 13. About 160,000 girls aged 12 to 13 are to be vaccinated against HPV during the initial stage of the program. Informing women about the most common form of the malignancy in women under 45 was the ambitious goal of the first European prevention week held last month. Many women do not know that the disease is not hereditary and can be contracted by any sexually active woman, irrespective of her age or family history. Girls are beginning their sexual activity at younger ages, and according to the survey, do not know that having a Pap test can reveal alterations to the cells in the cervix before they turn into cancer. Only 4 in 10 of the young women polled were aware of that fact, 19 percent did not know what cervical smear tests were for, and 32 percent were misinformed. It also showed that of the young women who were tested, most of the costs were covered by their parents, one in three paid out of her own pocket and only 15 percent were covered by a social security fund. Early diagnosis and prevention by means of a newly developed vaccine is becoming more important given that every year 60,000 new cases are diagnosed in Europe. According to the National Public Health School, in Greece a girl’s first visit to a gynecologist is, on average, at the age of 15. In 35.5 percent of cases, it occurs after the girl’s first sexual contact and in 25 percent of cases beforehand. However, 38 percent of those polled did not want to answer the question and therefore the evidence is not conclusive. The survey also examined women’s attitudes to health in general, revealing that young Greek women want to know more about these issues and the overwhelming majority (95 percent) know that prevention was better than cure. They recognized their own responsibility for taking steps to protect their own future health by taking the right action now. However, only half believed prevention included regular checkups (45 percent). Only 23 percent thought they should visit their doctors regularly and 13 percent only when they were sick. Only 10 percent said they were responsible for the state of their health and a tiny 8 percent said they had adopted a healthy way of life. Two-thirds had their own doctor. Parents were the ones they turned to most often for advice, and were trusted almost as much as their doctor. About a quarter of young girls found it awkward to talk about gynecological problems with doctors. The age groups polled (16-25) are usually free of health problems. Rating their health on a scale of 1-100, the average score was 89.