Southern Africa leads in cervical cancer cases

Southern Africa leads in cervical cancer casesA Limpopo nurse was suspended after a video of her insulting a patient was leaked to the public. (File Photo).File Photo.

Southern Africa continues to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the world’s cervical cancer deaths, according to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report that estimates about 19 million people globally will be diagnosed with cancer annually by 2025.

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Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer among South African women after breast cancer.
Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer among South African women after breast cancer.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently released its latest global cancer report showing substantial increases in both new cases of cancer and cancer deaths.

The report also found worrying trends in developing countries like South Africa, which were home to about 65 percent of the world’s 8.2 million cancer-related deaths in 2012. The burden is, in part, due to better detection and a shift in disease burden, according to Dr Georgia Demetriou, acting head at the Medical Oncology Unit at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

“In developing countries such as South Africa, the better we are able to treat and combat infectious diseases and manage other lifestyle diseases – turning potentially fatal illnesses into curable or manageable chronic diseases – the more we raise the population’s life expectancy,” she said. “With an increasingly ageing population, cancers of all types will become more common.”

Demetriou is also the head of the Medical Teaching Unit at the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand.

As South Africa is better able to control some cancers, such as those associated with infections caused by viruses like the human papillomavirus (HPV) or hepatitis B and C, the country may also see a rise in already deadly cancers like those of the breast and prostrate, according to Director of Stellenbosch University’s Cancer Institute Vikash Sewram.

Cases of prostrate and breast cancer together comprise about a quarter of all new cancer cases in southern Africa.  While about 4,000 southern African women lost their lives to breast cancer in 2012, lung and cervical cancers remain responsible for the bulk of the region’s cancer-related deaths.

[quote float=”right”]With an increasingly ageing population, cancers of all types will become more common.”

According to the WHO report, cervical cancer kills more women in southern Africa than any other type of cancer for a number of factors including the region’s high HIV burden.

Studies have found that women living with HIV are six times as likely to develop cervical cancer, most probably due to their compromised immune system, according to a 2007 meta-analysis published in international medical journal, The Lancet.

“Cervical cancer is easily preventable and treatable, however, access to cervical cancer screening services in southern Africa remains minimal, and lack of awareness on the necessity to have pap smears done, also contribute to this burden,” Sewram said.

Sub-Saharan Africa saw about five times more cervical cancer cases than North America in 2012, according to the report. – Health-e News Service.