Cervical Cancer May Kill More Nigerian Women - by Rebecca Ejifoma

With just a handful of women going for cervical cancer screening and vaccination in the country, more women are at risk of dying from the disease in Nigeria.

This was disclosed recently by a radiologist and cancer control activist, Professor Ifeoma Okoye who lamented low turnout of women at screening centres across the country.

Professor Ifeoma Okoye disclosed that a total of 234, 000 women die of cervical cancer globally every year and that record shows that cervical cancer kills more women worldwide than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

The radiologist said that currently in Nigeria, there are only four radiotherapy centres available, which means most cervical cancer patients are not able to get the benefit of even the palliative radiation. “In Nigeria, there is lack of screening programmes, which means that the disease is not identified until symptoms develop.”

Okoye who attended the inauguration of a school-based cervical cancer vaccination awareness campaign, organised by Breast without Spot (BWS) at the University of Lagos, Akoka recently said concerted effort is required to ensure cervical cancer is controlled in the country.

Okoye said that cervical cancer is a major killer disease among women, and Nigeria is the tenth in cervical cancer death-toll worldwide.

Okoye who is also the founder of BWS added that in Nigeria, 48, 000, 000 (48 million) women are at risk of cancer, while 17, 550 women are diagnosed yearly, with a total of 9, 659 women dying annually. The breakdown according to her means 26 women die daily in Nigeria.

She explained that it has become alarming since most of the cases are rampant in developing countries like Nigeria.

“Cervical cancer kills more women worldwide than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Cervical cancer is 99 per cent preventable and prevention is necessary for the reduction and control of cancer burden in the country,” she said.
With the epidemiology that cervical cancer ranks first as both the most frequent and most lethal cancer in women in Africa, Okoye revealed that women with oncogenic HPV infection, who spontaneously clear their infection and continue to be HPV DNA-negative, appear to be at very low risk for subsequently developing cervical cancer.

HPV is estimated to cause, 100 per cent of cervical cancer cases, 90 per cent of anal cancer cases, 40 per cent of cases of cancers of the external genitalia (vulva, vagina and penis), at least 12 per cent of oropharyngeal cancer cases, and at least 3 per cent of oral cancer cases.

While advising women on the need for prevention, she explained that screening had been shown to reduce cervical cancer as well as morbidity and mortality, adding that every woman should be screened every three to five years.

Although cervical cancer is said to have no particular symptoms, women have been advised to look out for pains around the cervix. “Having pains during intercourse, foul smelly discharge, weight loss and weakness are some of the symptoms,” she said

Meanwhile, the Senior Registrar, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) Dr. Joy Agbara has said that early age at first sexual intercourse, number of sexual partners and contacts with high-risk men are some of the positive risk factor for cervical cancer.

Other factors associated with HPV persistence and development of cervical cancer, include: Immune suppression, early age at first delivery, Long-term use of hormonal contraceptives, cigarette smoking, and infection with other sexually transmitted diseases (Chlamydia trachomatis and Herpes simplex virus type 2). HIV-infected individuals are at higher risk of HPV infection and persistence and are infected by a broader range of HPV types.

Due to the increase in death rate, the medical expert urged government at all levels to improve and strengthen the healthcare system and make policy that would favour the citizens in terms of funding, infrastructure upgrade and training of medical personnel. “In as much as the government has role to play Nigerians should also inculcate the habit of regular screening for early detection and prompt treatment to prevent late detection of cancer cases and cancer mortality,” she explained.