Prevention of Cervical Cancer

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Worldwide three quarters of cervical cancer cases occur in developing countries where programmes for screening and treatment are seriously deficient. Cervical cancer is the commonest cancer among sub-Saharan African women. It affects the younger age group as a result of early sexual activity, several sexual partners and history of sexually transmitted infections mainly linked with human papilloma virus (HPV).

One way to prevent cervical cancer is through screening and early treatment programmes. Early detection and management of precancerous lesions require political and technical input. Challenges faced by countries are: lack of awareness of people about cervical cancer, absence of policy framework, inadequate infrastructures, insufficient of data and evidence.

Since 2005, a pilot project on cervical cancer prevention is conducted by WHO, Headquarters and the Regional Office for Africa, in collaboration with International agency for research on cancer, in six African countries to strengthen national programmes. The objective of the project is to assess the acceptability and feasibility of implementing a cervical cancer prevention programme based on a "se and treat approach" using a technique called visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) followed by cryotherapy at primary health care level.

Well organized, screening and early treatment programmes have been effective in preventing the cervical cancer. However, they are difficult to implement in low-resource setting. Since 2006, different vaccines that protect against certain types of HPV infection were licensed. African countries need to consider whether and how to use these new vaccines. The SRH Programme in the Regional Office is planning operational research on the use of HPV vaccines in selected settings.