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Red alert

From BBC - September 8, 2017

Menstruation is considered a taboo to even speak about in India, so imagine the reaction to the idea of collecting women's used menstrual pads.

But that is exactly what health workers did in villages in the West Indian state of Maharashtra - in order to diagnose the possibility of cervical cancer.

More than a quarter of the world's cervical cancer patients are from India.

Yet there are many reasons why women do not go for cervical screening - a lack of adequate infrastructure and facilities in rural areas as well as burdening costs, coupled with unease at undergoing the invasive examination.

"Rural women are shy, fear the test and consider it unnecessary," said researchers writing in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention.

More than 90% of Indian rural women use homemade cloth as a menstrual pad, as opposed to commercial sanitary products.

Researchers from the Tata Memorial Centre and National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health in India found that by analysing these used menstrual pads, they could detect the presence of human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer.

"It is an easy and convenient way," Dr Atul Budukh, lead researcher from the centre, told the BBC.

"The major roadblock to large scale implementation of the cervical cancer screening programme is the low participation by the women at risk."

As a result, doctors say that most cervical cancer patients are only diagnosed at an advanced metastatic stage or when attending hospital for any other medical check-up.

Deep freeze DNA

For the research, more than 500 women aged between 30 and 50 with no history of any cancer, who were physically and mentally fit and menstruating regularly, provided their pads for analysis during the two-year research period.

These women were asked to store the menstrual cloth on the first day of their periods in a simple ziplock bag and hand it to the local health worker.

The collected menstrual cloth was then stored at -20C and sent to the diagnostic centre in a dry ice container for HPV screening.

Genomic DNA was then extracted from dried menstrual blood, amplified and studied using polymerase chain reaction - a technique used in molecular biology.

Twenty-four women tested positive for HPV and were identified for further treatment, said Dr Bhuduk.

Genital hygiene

Myths and superstition

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