Over two-thirds of South African women risk developing cervical cancer, in light of a worrying local increase in Human Pappiloma Virus (HPV)-related diseases, the University of the Witwatersrand said recently.
"Information from a recent WHO/ICO report on HPV and cervical cancer 2010 shows that South Africa has a population of 16.84 million women aged 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer," Martin Hale, department head of anatomical pathology at Wits and the National Health Laboratory Service, said in a statement.
This amounted to about 65% of women in the country, based on estimates from Statistics SA in July 2010, according to which 25.66 million people in the population were women.
Cervical cancer kills 3,000 SA women every year
"Current estimates indicate that every year 5,743 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 3,000 die from the disease," said Hale.
"Cervical cancer is the second most frequent cancer among women in South Africa, and the second most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age," he said.
About 21% of women in the general population were estimated to harbour cervical HPV infection at any given time.
Hale said there was growing concern for an increasing epidemic of HPV-induced diseases involving not only the cervix, but other areas in the female genital tract and anogenital region. The increase was noted not only in South Africa, but the whole African continent.
The disease was exacerbated by the HIV pandemic, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Limited access to information and resources was blamed for the increase in the disease.
Hale said women were more susceptible depending on the age of first intercourse, the number of children they had, and whether their immune system was weakened.
Controlling the disease
"Public education, a regular pap-smear and modifying human behaviour will assist in mitigating the rise in cervical cancer cases," said Hale.
HPV vaccines that prevented against HPV 16 and 18 infection were available to the public. HPV 16 and 18 caused over 60% of invasive cervical cancers.
"They have the potential to reduce the incidence of cervical and other anogenital cancers... however the debate is still raging on how, to whom and whether the vaccine should be administered," Hale said. - (Sapa, March 2011)