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A lesson against HPV – la Repubblica

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Two hours of “lesson” are enough for the kids to learn how to protect themselves from cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV. The Martina Project proves it to us, which after the forced stop due to the pandemic returns to the school desks. Supported by the Italian Lions of Multiple District 108, the Martina Project aims to provide young people with useful information to reduce the risk of developing certain oncological diseases and on early diagnosis. In the chair, so to speak, there are Lions and non-Lion doctors who, on a voluntary basis, decide to dedicate some of their time to speaking to young people.

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HPV numbers

January is the month dedicated to the prevention of cervical cancer, a disease caused in 99% of cases by an agent that we now know very well, the human papillomavirus. So well as to have learned to prevent it very effectively: thanks to the availability of screening and vaccines, in fact, the incidence of this type of tumor has been reduced by almost 25%. But much remains to be done in this sense, because in our country there are still too few boys and girls vaccinated: as regards those born in 2009, for example, only 32% of females and 26% of males have received the vaccination. In fact, the target is not only girls, given that the virus is also responsible for part of the tumors of the throat, penis and anus.

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Martina project

“The Martina project – tells a Oncoline the responsible Adriana Bavosa – was born at the beginning of 2000 from the idea of ​​a Lions member of the Padua club, Professor Cosimo di Maggio, professor of Radiology at the University of Padua. He collected the moral testament of a young patient of his who had asked him to let young people know what prevention was and how important it was”. To date, the project has involved over one million students throughout Italy, who have participated first in the “basic” meetings and then in the “in-depth” ones. The goal, as we said, is to fight tumors by informing young people about the possibilities of vaccination for certain oncological pathologies (such as those caused by Papillomavirus infection, in fact), on the opportunities for timely diagnosis and on the need to commit ourselves first person through the adoption of healthy lifestyles.

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How meetings are held

The meetings, initially aimed at boys and girls aged between 16 and 18 and subsequently extended to the under 16s as well, focus on some specific types of cancer, such as cervical cancer, melanoma, testicular cancer or breast cancer, pathologies that can also affect young people and for which much can be done from the point of view of prevention. Each meeting lasts about two hours, as Bavosa explains: “We try to involve them by speaking to them in a very serene way, without terrorizing them. Otherwise we know that kids tend to put up a wall and not actively participate in the lesson and in the debate that follows. The more the doctor makes the “ex cathedra” report, the less the kids ask questions”. At the end of the meetings, and then again after a year, they are asked to fill out questionnaires, identical throughout Italy, in order to monitor the effective understanding of the concepts provided and the impact they have had on lifestyle .

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There is no shortage of results

96% of students declare that they understand that it is possible to reduce their personal risk of having cancer in their lifetime. Over 50% also state that they have somehow changed their behavior following the meetings, for example by paying more attention to their diet (60%), reducing or eliminating smoking (36%) or dedicating more time to physical activity (68%). Not only. “In Veneto – continues the project coordinator – some young people, following our seminars, have discovered that they have tumors which, thanks to early diagnosis, have resolved themselves better. It happened with melanoma, breast cancer and testicular cancer. This is one of the reasons that push us to continue”. As regards, in particular, the theme of the Papillomavirus, 84% of the girls said they decided to get vaccinated after having participated in the seminars. An important result, given the lack of knowledge of this risk factor by young people. According to the questionnaires relating to the 2021-2022 school year, 61% of the children involved would in fact have declared that they did not know what Papillomavirus is.

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Another important result is that, again on the basis of the answers obtained, the practice of self-examination to personally discover the possible presence of objective signs of a pathology seems to be starting to spread (23%). Finally, after some time many students (86%) declare that they still have excellent memories of the first meeting and suggest extending the training activity to other students. “85-88% of the boys – continues Bavosa – do not declare themselves frightened by the topics covered and almost nobody finds the language used by doctors difficult”. What makes the difference is the involvement of doctors who are not too specialized in the topics to be covered during the seminars, to avoid using excessively formal language. The participation of pediatric doctors is also very effective.

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Programs for 2023

“This should be the year of recovery”, continues Bavosa: “We have already had many meetings, we are renewing the material and our project is to go back to meeting around 100,000 young people a year, as happened in the past”. In all of this, the collaboration on the part of the schools is obviously fundamental: “We need – she concludes – that the schools are available to welcome us and to dedicate these two hours a year for each class to the Martina Project”.

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