Cervical cancer neglected in Africa

Health authorities need to ensure that these women receive pap smears.

Health authorities need to ensure that these women receive pap smears.

Published Aug 13, 2015


Cape Town - Cervical cancer is a “neglected disease”, Cancer Association of SA (Cansa) chief executive Elize Joubert says.

Joubert won two awards last month in the 2015 Africa’s Most Influential Women (MIW) in Business and Government Awards.

Her awards were in the categories of “Country Winner for South Africa” and “The Southern African Development Community (SADC) South Region”.

Joubert said cervical cancer was the second most common cancer in women worldwide and the leading cause of cancer morbidity and mortality in women in developing countries.

“I remain concerned about cancers affecting women and, in particular, cervical cancer as it’s a neglected disease in Africa. We need to continue to provide cancer education and screening,” she said.

At the July Cansa Research in Action Conference, Professor Lynette Denny, principal specialist and professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Groote Schuur Hospital and UCT, said her research on cervical cancer in Africa over the past 15 years had found that on the continent there were no effective cervical cancer screening programmes, and access to diagnostic and treatment facilities was limited.

She said the factors that contributed to the neglect and lack of recognition of cervical cancer as an important cause of premature mortality and morbidity in women included the predominance of communicable diseases such as HIV and TB, maternal and neonatal mortality and nutritional conditions.

There were at least 700 000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in Africa a year and the case fatality rate was very high, reaching over 80 percent in most countries, she found.

The primary underlying cause of cervical cancer was the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which was transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and was a common virus infecting most people at some point in their lives.

Joubert said it was important to encourage women in the age group of nine to 26 years, if not sexually active, to get the HPV vaccine which could be accessed through the national Department of Health HPV Vaccination Programme in all public schools, providing all Grade 4 pupils with the opportunity to receive the HPV vaccination.

The department also provided an implementation guide to the schools, giving teachers the necessary information regarding the vaccination and reducing the cancer risk.

“Most important, is that women go for regular Pap smears – as from age 18 to 25 who have ever been sexually active should have Pap smears every three years or two years after first sexual activity, whichever is later, and continue until age 70,” Joubert said.

Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, she said, breast cancer was the most common cancer in women of all races and ethnic groups.

In South Africa the lifetime risk for breast cancer in women was one in 33.

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