Cervical Cancer At Alarming Rates In Pacific

Taylor: Cervical cancer is a development issue, albeit largely perceived as a women's reproductive health issue

By Dame Meg Taylor

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, July 21, 2017) – Cervical cancer is the number one cancer killing women in many developing countries.

This year an estimated 266,000 women around the world will die from it, and 85 per cent of them will live in low-resource settings.

Incidence rates in the Pacific are equally alarming.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer says Melanesia, with an annual age standardized incidence rate of 33.3 cases per 100,000 females and a mortality rate of 20.7 cases per 100,000 females, is a sub-region particularly at risk.

In Polynesia and Micronesia the statistics are slightly better with an annual average incidence rate of 11 and 8.7 cases per 100,000 females and mortality rate of 5.1 and 2.7 per 100,000 females respectively.

What makes these figures particularly painful is that cervical cancer is preventable.

Medical screening and the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, first developed at the University of Queensland in Australia, have proven very effective for saving lives.

A National Cervical Screening Program in Australia in 1991 saw deaths from cervical cancer halved, from four to 1.8 deaths per 100,000 women.

Where the vaccine is readily available it has the potential to reduce the global burden of cervical cancer by between 70 to 80 per cent.

A systematic review of cervical cancer in the Pacific region in 2012 highlighted that while the burden of cervical cancer is significant for the region, the delivery of preventative programs is insufficient.

The study highlighted the availability of cost-effective, evidence-based and feasible primary and secondary cervical cancer screening and management.

Health systems in low-resource settings however often do not provide sufficient or appropriate services for adult women, beyond pregnancy-related care.

Cervical cancer is a development issue, albeit largely perceived as a women's reproductive health issue.

And of course it not only places a medical burden on the patient, but it also adds social and economic impacts, including for the patient's immediate and wider family.

Some Forum countries like Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, New Zealand, Marshall Islands and Palau have introduced vaccination programmes.

However, with the current weight of other health conditions, such as non-communicable diseases, drawing a lot of attention from our already stretched, and in many cases under resourced health systems, it appears adequate solutions have been beyond the reach of all our people.

Radio New Zealand International
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