March 28, 2011
The head of the National Health Laboratory Service and of anatomical pathology at Witwatersrand University is warning of a rise in human papillomavirus (HPV)-related diseases among South African women.
Martin Hale said data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show increasing incidence of cervical cancer and other cancers associated with the STD.
"Information from a recent WHO/[Institut Català d'Oncolgia] report on HPV and cervical cancer shows that South Africa has a population of 16.84 million women ages 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer," said Hale. Using July 2010 estimates from Statistics South Africa, this amounts to roughly 65 percent of women in the country.
"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," said Hale. "Current estimates indicate that every year 5,743 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 3,000 die from the disease."
Limited access to cervical cancer information and resources, as well as the HIV pandemic, are contributing to the increase. Hale said females are more susceptible depending on their age at first intercourse, the number of children they have had, and whether their immune system has been weakened.
"Public education, a regular Pap smear and modifying human behavior will assist in mitigating the rise in cervical cancer cases," said Hale. Vaccines against HPV "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 [immunizations] should be administered," he noted.