Health workers drive life-saving handbook

Waminda South Coast Women Health & Welfare Aboriginal Corporation Cultural Committee members, including regional manager Kristine Falzon (third from right).

A new handbook has been released in the battle to lower the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women developing or dying from cervical and endometrial cancer.

The publication by Cancer Australia was developed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and aims to help the workers reduce the impact of gynaecological cancers in their communities through information and support.

The handbook promotes ways of reducing the risk of cancer, cervical cancer screening, awareness of symptoms, early detection and referral and treatment.

Gynaecological cancers include cervical, endometrial and ovarian cancers.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with, and 3.8 times more likely to die from, cervical cancer.

They are also 1.8 times more likely to be diagnosed with, and 2.2 times more likely to die from, endometrial cancer, according to Cancer Australia.

Kristine Falzon, senior regional manager for Waminda, a health and welfare corporation for Aboriginal women on the New South Wales south coast, said it was important to have clear and consistent health messaging.

At Waminda, health workers stay with patients through their cancer treatment.

“The handbook is designed through consultation, therefore you are getting that grassroots voice and providing communities with the correct tools to deliver the services,” Ms Falzon said.

“(These health workers) are specialists in their field.

“They know their communities, their people, their issues within their communities, so it’s being able to provide the clinical information, terminology, referral information and pathways for the health workers and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to do that.”

Cancer Australia chief executive officer Dr Helen Zorbas said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers played a vital role in the healthcare of Indigenous communities and were critical to better cancer outcomes.

“The handbook guides health workers in addressing misconceptions about gynaecological cancers, suggests ways to encourage women to reduce their risk, including undertaking cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination, and provides methods for managing embarrassing or sensitive topics,” Dr Zorbas said.

“It also emphasises the importance of ensuring women understand the medical advice they’re given and explaining medical jargon, and how health workers can use diagrams, pictures and written information for the woman and her family to take away.

“All of these are steps towards improving gynaecological cancer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.”

Gynaecological Cancers: a Handbook for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Health Practitioners is available on the Cancer Australia website.

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