Speaking at a Cancer Association of Zimbabwe public lecture last week, Harare-based oncologist Doctor Nomsa Tsikai said increasing vaccinations against cervical cancer could be another way of reducing deaths in women.
“Girls between ages nine and 13 can get the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine which can help prevent 90% of pre-cancer,” Tsikai said. “Since the HPV is sexually transmitted, the vaccine contains antibodies which target the virus and attack it at a later stage when the girl engages in sex, stopping it from sitting on the cervix and developing into cancer.”
Several events, including the National Conference on Cancer Prevention and Control, were held in September as part of cervical cancer commemorations.
Tsikai said cervical cancer continues to be treated as a peripheral issue in public health discussions in the country despite it being more common than breast cancer.
Her comments are in-line with the observation by delegates at the national cancer conference who said cancer remains low on the national agenda despite its rapid increase since the advent of HIV and Aids.
According to the National Health Strategy for Zimbabwe (2009-2013), cancer of the cervix accounted for 32,1% of the 2 333 cancers recorded in women in 2006. It was followed by breast cancer at 11,1% and Kaposi’s sarcoma (which is HIV related) at 10,9%.
“In the past, cervical cancer used to be associated with menopause but now even young women are also affected,” Tsikai said. “Sometimes you see a young woman who would have just been married suffering from it.
“In most cases, these women refuse to undergo treatment so it is better we catch them young.”