Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among females worldwide with over 200,000 deaths annually. According to WHO AFRO, about 70,000 cases of cervical cancer are reported each year in Africa. According to WHO, Africa experiences the highest number of new cases of, and deaths from, cervical cancer in a year. In sub-Saharan Africa cervical cancer affects mostly women in the 20-40 year age group. Risk factors for cervical cancer can broadly be categorized as follows:
The greater the number of sexual partners a woman has, the higher the risk of HPV infection. Therefore, women who limit their number of male sexual partners have a lower risk of cervical cancer. In Africa, HPV is endemic and poses a very high risk for cervical cancer. Early marriages, especially of young girls to much older men, increase the likelihood of a girl catching HPV at first intercourse,
Poor nutritional status and infections such as HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) have compromised the immune systems of many individuals. Subsequently, this makes them more susceptible to diseases. Furthermore, HIV-positive women tend to have the advanced stage disease, resistance to therapy and shortened survival
Health system factors
Poor health services are another serious concern for the increased risk of cervical cancer. A lack of an effective screening program aimed at detecting and treating pre-cancerous conditions is a key reason for the much higher cervical cancer incidence in developing countries. Screening programs for cervical cancer in Africa are often undeveloped or non‐existent, thereby affecting the survival rate of women. A vast majority of women who suffer from cervical cancer in SSA present with the disease advanced far beyond the capacity of surgery or other treatment options to offer cure.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers. Unlike most other cancers it is cost-effective to screen for precursor (pre-cancerous) lesions and then treat them before they develop into cancer. Primary intervention entails prevention of HPV infection. This includes abstinence, mutual monogamy, condom use and use of vaccines. HPV vaccines need to be given prior to contact with the virus that is before sexual debut. HPV vaccines should be targeted towards adolescents aged 10 to 13 years.
Secondary intervention entails screening of the cervix using a Pap smear test. Women found with abnormal smears are referred for a colposcopy and once diagnosis is confirmed, treatment is advised.