Women in Southeast Asia are at extremely high risk of cervical cancer. Only 38 per cent of women in Thailand and 2.2 per cent of women in Laos have undergone screening. To find out how to improve the situation and identify barriers to cancer, screening nurse Phensiri Dumrongpakapakorn from Nakhon Phanom University (NPU) launched a project aimed at improving public health efforts.

Only 2.2 per cent of women in Laos have undergone cervical cancer screening.

Only 2.2 per cent of women in Laos have undergone cervical cancer screening. © John Pavelka

With a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, USA, Phensiri returned to her native Thailand because she wanted to give something back to her country and generally advance the way healthcare is delivered in Southeast Asia. Having lost her mother and grandfather to cancer, she is determined to improve care provision for poor and vulnerable people who needlessly suffer the same fate because they cannot afford treatment.

“Seeing the situation in hospitals in Laos is heart breaking. Having broadened my perspective, learning about the different practices in the USA, my goal has always been to apply my knowledge as a civil service employee in Thailand. In Thailand I can help many more people,” she told ResearchSEA.

To set up a successful cancer screening program, she is working with a range of international and local institutions such as the University of Pittsburgh, Nakhon Phanom University, two provincial hospitals and the Lao Ministry of Health. A further inspiration and impetus came from the late Dr Jeffrey Shogan, founder of the Effective Aid in Thailand Foundation. Today Phensiri strives to make Dr Shogan’s vision a reality, by setting up a charitable medical clinic in Nakhon Phanom Province.

She is leading a study which aims to describe the cultural beliefs and perceived practical barriers to cancer screening, prevention and treatment in Thailand.

She will use a symptom management program known as Written Representational Intervention to Ease Symptoms (WRITE Symptoms). This eight week intervention program asks participants to write about their symptoms over a period of time. This allows clinicians to not only identify underlying causes, but also tackle patient’s emotional distress and how they respond to their symptoms. Clinicians may examine, for example, whether patients are coping in a ‘positive’ manner by seeking medical help or coping in a ‘negative’ manner by trying to
ignore symptoms.

By getting patients to identify their own misconceptions and the consequences of not dealing with early symptoms of cancer Phensiri is hoping to reduce the incredibly high number of people suffering from the disease.

“We’ve got so many [academic] papers on dealing with cancer, but the actions made by humans on the ground are very different.” She explains, “It is crucial that we take into account cultural practices and behaviours.”

For further information contact:

Dr Phensiri Dumrongpakapakorn
Nakhon Phanom University, Thailand
Email: dumrongpakapakorn.p@gmail.com