AN oncologist has warned that early sexual intercourse and the use of tobacco will most likely cause cervical cancer among women and girls in Tanzania if not stopped.
Benjamin Mkapa Hospital (BMH) oncologist Mary Ngowi said although the Department of Oncology was established last year to offer free cervical cancer screening services among women and girls, unfortunately responses among the targeted groups was very discouraging.
Despite the alarming situation, she said there was lack of public awareness among women and girls and the majority of them didn’t go for medical check-up to diagnose the killer disease.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Tanzania. Statistics show that excluding HIV/Aids, lower respiratory infections, malaria, diarrhoea and TB, cervical cancer kills more women than any other form of illness in Tanzania.
Cervical cancer happens when cells change in a woman’s cervix, which connects her uterus with her vagina. This cancer can affect the deeper tissues of her cervix and may spread to other parts of her body (metastasize), often the lungs, liver, bladder, vagina as well as the rectum. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with human papilloma-virus (HPV), which is preventable with a vaccine.
The oncologist added that some patients went for medical check-up while they were in critical stage, adding that cervical cancer was treatable, but due to ignorance many patients found themselves seeking treatment while it was too late.
She said in a critical stage of illness, it was complicated for the patient to recover and that the only option was to remain at home under palliative care, just taking painkiller drugs waiting for death.
“The disease is dangerous and continues killing many people in the country, especially in rural areas. There is a need for public awareness campaign to educate women and girls to turn out in large numbers for medical check-up,” she urged. She named Mwanza, Mara, Musoma and Bukoba among the regions with high prevalence in the country.
Tanzania has a low doctor-to-patient ratio (1:50,000) and nearly 7,000 women die each year from cervical cancer.
The disease is the fourth most common cancer in women globally, with over 500,000 new cases and an estimated 250,000 deaths each year. The burden of cervical cancer is disproportionately high in developing countries, which account for 85 percent of cases worldwide and nearly 90 percent of cervical cancer deaths.
Tanzania has a population of 14.88 million women aged 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Current estimates indicate that every year 9,772 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 6,695 die from the disease.
Cervical cancer ranks as the first most frequent cancer among women in Tanzania and the first most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age.
About 3.3 per cent of women are estimated to harbour cervical HPV-16/18 infection at a given time and 68.0 per cent of invasive cervical cancers are attributed to HPVs 16 or 18.