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WHO: Cervical Cancer is Preventable

The World Health Organization (WHO) says almost 250,000 women, most in developing countries, are dying each year from cervical cancer. WHO says many of these deaths could be prevented with early screening.

The World Health Organization says cervical cancer kills more women each year than childbirth. It estimates about 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year and nearly half of the women die. It says most of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America.

WHO cancer research team director Peter Boyle says by 2050, there will be one million new cases of cervical cancer each year in the developing world, unless action is taken now to prevent this.

"Thankfully, cervix cancer is one form of cancer where we can do something," he said. "We have seen in developed countries cervix cancer can be largely avoided by effective screening. By effective screening, we have got to emphasize not only the test and the frequency with which the test is done, but the quality control of the whole process including the diagnosis and treatment."

Practically all cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with human papilloma virus. It is spread through sex. In rich countries, most women regularly receive, what is called, a Pap smear, a test which, WHO says, reduces the rate of cervical cancer by 90 percent. But this test can cost as much as $40, which is too much for poor women in developing countries to afford.

A WHO expert on cancer screening, Rengaswamy Sankaranarayanan, says simple, effective low cost screening tests for cervical cancer are available. One method involves visual screening in which a drop of vinegar is put on the cervix. He says a physician or health worker looks to see whether the vinegar turns white, indicating pre-cancerous lesions.

"Any screening for any low, medium resource setting has to be done in the primary care level," he said. "And again in these low resource settings, screening and treatment should be linked together and should be available as possible in the same visit. For visual-based tests, it takes anywhere between three days to a week to train nurses and health workers."

The World Health Organization says in rural India, screening, diagnosis and treatment can be had for less than $4. It says this test provides a woman with protection against developing cervical cancer for about 10 years.

WHO says the rates of cervical cancer infection could be cut in half if diagnosis and treatment are properly implemented.