Eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem

JANUARY is recognised internationally as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and the month is used to bring awareness to the cancer caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). In Jamaica, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer overall, and the second most common in women. The incidence here is as much as over twice the rates in some other Caribbean islands, with approximately 200 women dying annually as a result of cervical cancer in Jamaica, the Jamaica Cancer Society relates.

How can we eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organization, says all countries must reach and maintain an incidence rate of fewer than four new cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women per year.

Achieving that goal rests on three key pillars and their corresponding targets:

• Vaccination: 90 per cent of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15 years;

• Screening: 70 per cent of women screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35 years, and again by the age of 45 years;

• Treatment: 90 per cent of women with pre-cancer treated and 90 per cent of women with invasive cancer managed.

• Each country should meet the 90-70-90 targets by 2030 to get on the path towards eliminating cervical cancer by the end of this century.

In 2020 an estimated 604,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 342,000 women died from the disease, IARC said. The main cause of cervical cancer is persistent infection with high-risk types of HPV, an extremely common family of viruses that are transmitted through sexual contact.

“Vaccines exist that protect against high-risk HPV types, and screening programmes can detect signs of disease at an early stage, allowing for effective treatment and management of the condition. This means that cervical cancer should be one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. In many high-income countries, this is the case. High incidence rates and high mortality rates of cervical cancer occur mainly in low- and middle-income countries,” it added. 

A reminder...

What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

• Get a regular Pap smear and know your test result.

• Follow up on abnormal Pap smears.

• Don't smoke/avoid second-hand smoke.

• Use condoms during sex.

• Limit your number of sexual partners.

• Get the HPV vaccine. 

Where can I get a Pap smear done?

A Pap smear can be done at:

• A general practitioner,

• Hospitals or health centres,

• A specialised doctor, such as a gynaecologist,

• Family planning clinics, or any

• branch of the Jamaica Cancer Society.

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