Experts red-flag spike in cervical cancer cases

Cases of cervical cancer in Zimbabwe continue to rise alarmingly with a worrying trend showing that young women in their 20s are also being infected.

Cervical cancer is one of the leading cancers in the country affecting mostly black women.

“Among women cancers, cervical cancer is very significant and constituted 32% of the women cancers in 2016 and this number increased to 36,1 in 2017 (more than a third of national cancer burden among women),” said Lovemore Makurirofa from the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe.

Addressing the media during a virtual meeting convened by the Zimbabwe Association of Church-related Hospitals (Zach), Makurirofa said its prevalence was higher among black women, particularly those living with HIV and Aids.

But of late, he said, younger women were also being infected with cervical cancer.

“As a nation, we need to do something to address this upward trend. Since the national cancer register started to collect this data, we are seeing an increasing number of cervical cancers every year.”

Makurirofa said it was important to also establish the age group which was being affected the most.

“One of the worrying situations here in Zimbabwe is that more young women around the age of 20 and 24 are developing cervical cancer,” he said.

This is despite the fact that normally, the peak is around those aged between 34 up to 50.

Makurirofa said they had no concrete evidence on why this was happening, but called on stakeholders to urgently address the issue. “But in our interventions, we need to focus on younger women,” he said.

Of concern too is the fact that although cancer is largely preventable, many were presenting late when intervention is no longer effective.

“One of the worrying situations in Zimbabwe is the stage of diagnosis. Cervical cancer is largely preventable but is diagnosed late just like any other cancer. Over 85% of the cases are diagnosed late,” he said.

Makurirofa said the disease in the initial stages did not show signs so people stay at home and then visit the hospital at stage three and four, making it very difficult for appropriate management to be implemented. He said in light of this, it was critical to promote early detection.

“We can save a lot of resources at individual, community and national levels.

A study commissioned by the University of Zimbabwe in collaboration with the Health ministry in 2017 revealed that at least 74% of women with cervical cancer seek treatment late.

The study, titled Determinants of Late Stage Presentation for Treatment among Women with Cervical Cancer in Harare, Zimbabwe, 2017, noted that women who reside in rural areas were 9,09 times more likely to present late for treatment than those who stay in the urban areas.

As an intervention, Makurirofa said cancer screening should be decentralised to rural areas with vaccination of young girls against cervical cancer scaled up.

Speaking during the same event, Zach’s technical adviser for the HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, Onai Diura Vere said cervical cancer was the most common among women living with HIV and Aids. “Evidence shows that women who are HIV positive are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer when we compare with women without HIV,” she said.—NewsDay

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