PAHO - Cervical cancer kills almost a quarter-million women worldwide each year

The Pan American Health Organization (A regional office of the World Health Organization), as a member of the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention (ACCP), has issued a new publication and reported that cervical cancer—while largely preventable—kills almost a quarter-million women worldwide each year.

The publication, a 255 page Manual for Planning and Implementing Cervical Cancer Prevention Programs, is a result of the collective experiences of the Alliance that includes PAHO and four other international health organizations: International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), PATH, EngenderHealth and JHPIEGO.

The Manual outlines affordable strategies for screening, diagnosing and treating pre-cancerous lesions, including visual inspection screening methods and cryotherapy treatment (compressed gas to freeze precancerous lesions). The Manual has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research.

The health alliance said in a report issued in Geneva last week that about 80 percent of the 500,000 yearly new cases of cervical cancer worldwide occur in developing nations—mainly in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

Last month, a PAHO report—titled A Situational Analysis of Cervical Cancer in Latin America and the Caribbean—found that cervical cancer screening programs in the region have generally failed to reduce cases and mortality rates largely because of inadequacies in treatment and follow-up.

According to this PAHO report, incidence and mortality rates from cervical cancer have declined steeply in North America, to below 10 per 100,000 females in both Canada and the United States.

Yet rates in most Latin American and Caribbean countries are higher than 20 cases per 100,000 (in many cases, much higher) and are surpassed only by rates found in East Africa and Melanesia. In addition, cervical cancer accounts for a higher percentage of cancer deaths in the region—as high as 49.2 percent in Haiti, compared with 2.5 percent in North America.

Cervical cancer—cancer of the cervix, at the base of the uterus—kills more women annually than childbirth, and it is estimated that it could affect as many as 750,000 women by 2020 and as many as 1 million new cases by 2050. Currently, 230,000 die from it each year.

"You could say it is a developing epidemic of cervix cancer," said IARC Director Peter Boyle. "By 2050, there will be one million new cases of cervical cancer each year in the developing world alone," he noted. "But cervical cancer is one form of cancer where we can do something about it."

Indeed, the number of cervical cancer cases could be significantly reduced through effective screening and treatment programs.

The ACCP Manual for Managers is a 255-page how-to manual intended for health managers on how to plan, establish, implement, strengthen and monitor cervical cancer prevention and treatment services. "More than a simple publication, this (manual) constitutes a unique example of a synergistic approach by various international agencies preparing a comprehensive strategy for cervical cancer prevention in the world," it said.

For the last five years, the ACCP has worked in more than 50 countries on identifying, promoting and implementing effective, safe and affordable cervical cancer strategies in poorer nations. This was made possible by a US$50 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Cervical cancer is considered the second most common cancer in women worldwide. But, according to the statement by the ACCP, this type of cancer—unlike other cancers—can easily be prevented through well-organized screening and treatment of detected pre-cancerous lesions. This characteristic makes it one of the priorities in the global fight against cancer.

In fact, in March 2005, for the first time in WHO's history, a World Health Assembly resolution is going to be discussed to provide opportunity to reinforce comprehensive cancer policies and strategies among its member states.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.

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