Cervical cancer affects millions of women worldwide. It is a silent killer, it has a high prevalence outside of developed countries, and almost all cases of cervical cancer can be attributed to HPV infection. Yet many people know little about the disease. In this blog, we discuss some of the facts that deserve attention.
#1: Cervical cancer is still highly prevalent in LMICs
In developed countries, there is increasing discussion about eliminating cervical cancer, but in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) it remains a widespread, deadly disease. Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer amongst women in LMICs. About 90 per cent of deaths from cervical cancer occur in LMICs1.
Effective cervical cancer screening requires robust clinical infrastructure, skilled human resources and quality assurances − most of which are lacking in LMICs because resources are limited. Hence, patients in these countries have less access to cancer screening and treatment options, and the mortality rate for cervical cancer is higher.
The development of screening opportunities using alternative HPV-based strategies and HPV vaccinations has greatly reduced the rate of cervical cancer. But these solutions have a high cost, so their implementation in LMICs is limited. Consequently, only 10 per cent of females in LMICs have access to the HPV vaccine, compared to 90 per cent of females in developed nations2.
#2: HPV is the number one cause of cervical cancer
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are attributable to certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease3. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV infection4.
HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract4, and most people will clear the infection without problem. But in rare cases, HPV infections linger for years, putting women at risk of developing cervical cancer.
HPV infection types are classified as low risk or high risk based on whether they put a person at risk of developing cancer. Low-risk HPV types cause warts but rarely develop into cancer. High-risk HPV types do not cause warts, but can develop into cancer.
If a woman’s body does not clear a HPV infection, it can cause changes to cells in their cervix, increasing the risk of developing cervical cancer. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for HPV to develop into cervical cancer5.
#3: Cervical cancers usually don’t cause symptoms in early stages
In the early stages of cervical cancer, when the condition is most treatable, women usually don’t show symptoms, according to the NCCC4. High-risk HPV types do not cause symptoms. Pre-cancerous cervix cells that change as a result of a HPV infection also do not cause symptoms. Pre-cancerous lesions at other sites in the body may cause symptoms. It is only if HPV infection develops into cancer that the cancer may cause symptoms.
The lack of early-stage symptoms of cervical cancer underlines the need for women to receive regular screening so that the risk of leaving HPV untreated and developing cervical cancer can be reduced.
#4: Cervical cancer is preventable
Although the adoption of the HPV vaccine has significantly reduced the rates of cervical cancer in those countries that have introduced vaccination programs, it remains important for all women to receive cervical screening. Of all cancer-screening methods, cervical cancer screening is the most effective6. Routine cervical screening is the best way to detect abnormal changes to the cervix before developing into cancer. Screening looks for cancer before a person has any symptoms. Screening can help detect early-stage cancer, which is easier to treat; as by the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have spread.
#5: Weakened immune system increases risks of developing cervical cancer
Our bodies’ immune system is important in destroying cancer cells and slowing their growth and spread. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, damages a woman’s immune system and puts them at higher risk of HPV infections and, in turn, cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women living with HIV6. According to the World Health Organisation, people who are immune-compromised, such as those living with HIV, are more likely to have persistent HPV infections and a more rapid progression to pre-cancer and cancer. For instance, it takes five to 10 years for cervical cancer to develop in women with weaker immune systems, compared to the 15 to 20 years for women with normal immune systems1.
How TruScreen fits in
At TruScreen, we are providing an alternative cervical screening solution that addresses the above facts. TruScreen’s breakthrough device provides real-time reporting to identify whether cells are normal or abnormal, thereby helping to improve early detection, treatment and, ultimately, prevention.
The TruScreen device is primarily distributed in LMICs, where rates of cervical cancer and HIV are higher, and can help resolve many of the ongoing issues faced by those countries.
World Health Organisation, Cervical Cancer, WHO International, 27 September 2019, https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/diagnosis-screening/cervical-cancer/en/
UNAIDS, The little-known links between cervical cancer and HIV, UNAIDS, 27 September 2019, https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2019/may/20190531_cervical-cancer-hiv
World Health Organisation, 2019, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Cervical Cancer, World Health Organisation, viewed 22 October 2019, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer
Rettner, R. 2017, Sportscaster's Surprise Cancer Reveal: 5 Cervical Cancer Facts, Life Science, viewed 21 October 2019, https://www.livescience.com/57619-erin-andrews-cervical-cancer-facts.html
Australian Government Department of Health, 2019, About HPV and cervical cancer, Australian Government Department of Health, viewed 21 October 2019, http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/about-HPV-and-cervical-cancer
Hakama M, Miller AB, Day NE. Screening for Cancer of the Uterine Cervix. From the IARC Working Group on Cervical Cancer Screening and the UICC Project Group on the Evaluation of Screening Programmes for Cancer. WHO (Geneva), IARC (Lyon), and UICC (Geneva) 1986; 1–315 IARC Sci Publ. 76