A Consultant Oncologist, Dr. Abia Nzelu, says women are expected to get regular cervical screening, even after receiving the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine that protects against cervical cancer.
Nzelu says cervical cancer is preventable and that when diagnosed early, it is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancers.
The oncologist disclosed this during an interview with PUNCH Healthwise, stressing that HPV vaccine protects both males and females from HPV-related cancers.
She, however, said, “Vaccination can prevent new HPV infections, but cannot treat existing infections or diseases, so it works best when given before any exposure to HPV.
“It is therefore recommended for males and females from nine to 26 years of age. HPV vaccination is less beneficial and is optional for those above 26 years as most would have already been exposed to the virus.
“For the same reason, women are expected to get regular cervical cancer screening, even after vaccination.
“Widespread HPV vaccination, coupled with access to screening and optimal treatment is responsible for the status of cervical cancer as a disappearing disease in advanced nations.
“Sadly, the cost of the HPV vaccine is prohibitive to those who need it most. A dose costs over N20,000; two doses are required, administered six months apart.”
The World Health Organisation had in November 2020, inaugurated its Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. The strategy outlined three key steps: vaccination, screening and treatment.
According to WHO, successful implementation of all the three steps could reduce more than 40 per cent of new cases of the disease and five million related deaths by 2050.
WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer sets January as cervical cancer awareness month.
Nzelu who is the Executive Secretary, GivingTide international, says though cervical cancer is on the increase globally, the situation in Nigeria has assumed a worrisome dimension.
She explained, “ Just like COVID-19, Nigeria is also experiencing a second surge of cervical cancer, a disease that has a much higher mortality rate than COVID-19 and which is also caused by another deadly virus, known as HPV. Most Nigerians are oblivious of HPV and cervical cancer, a silent killer which disproportionately devastates women in the developing world, but it is a disappearing disease in the developed world, where appropriate steps have been taken.”
“In Nigeria, cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in women generally as well as among women between the age of 15 and 44 years. It is also the 2nd most common cause of cancer deaths in females after breast cancer. In 2008, cervical cancer killed 9,659 Nigerian women (66 percent mortality rate), by 2012, this reduced to 8,070 (57 percent mortality rate). However, 2018 saw a new spike in cervical cancer mortality to 10,403 (70 percent mortality rate).”
She further noted, “Cervical cancer is virtually 100 preventable and also curable if detected and treated early. Yet it is the 4th most common cancer in women globally, and the 2nd most common cancer among females in less developed countries.
“According to WHO, there were 570,000 cases of cervical cancer worldwide in 2018, and about 311,000 deaths. Sadly, 90 percent of those deaths occurred in developing nations like Nigeria, where women lack access to screening and early intervention.
“Furthermore, WHO has warned that if drastic action is not taken, the annual number of new cases of cervical cancer could rise from 570,000 to 700,000 between 2018 and 2030, while annual deaths would increase from 311,000 to 400,000.”
According to her, the current survival rate of confirmed cervical cancer in Nigeria is 30 percent, adding that while India boasts of over 200 Comprehensive Cancer Centres, Nigeria has none.
Nzelu also noted that the masses in Nigeria still do not have access to the vaccine.
The oncologist urged the Federal Government to strive to make the HPV vaccine available so as to protect the people from HPV-related cancers.
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