Fighting cervical cancer: time to go global

 
By Laura Mize • Published: November 1st, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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According to the National Cancer Institute, cervical cancer rates have been declining in the United States since at least the 1970s.

Rates are so low in fact that estimates show less than 1 percent of American girls born today will face this disease. But women in many other parts of the world don’t have it so good. A 2008 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that cervical cancer rates are nearly eight times higher in areas of Africa than in Western countries. Why such a difference?

Cervical cancer prevention, detection and treatment efforts have done wonders in Western nations. But they’re not widespread in low- and middle-income countries.

Researchers writing in the journal PLOS Medicine say these same steps would be effective in the rest of the world, too. They highlight the simple methods used to combat the disease, starting with a focus on its main cause, human papilloma virus. Also called H-P-V, this virus is very common, although it only causes cancer in a small percentage of women who get it. The good news is a vaccine protects against the virus. And, limiting your number of sexual partners can reduce your risk of infection. Next, cervical changes that lead to cancer are easy to spot with a simple exam. Many of these changes are treatable, too, as are many cases of cervical cancer itself.

The article authors call for international campaigns to drastically cut cervical cancer rates in poorer nations. Other female-focused global health efforts have sparked vast improvements in the past few decades.

For example, according to the World Health Organization, the death rate from pregnancy and childbirth dropped by nearly half globally from 1990 to 2010. It’s time to apply the same vigor to protecting women from cervical cancer.