Women still ignorant about cause of cervical cancer, study finds


Women still ignorant about cause of cervical cancer, study finds

A new study by the Lancet Group of Labs and Consumer Options among women in major Kenyan cities has revealed that almost all of them (97 per cent) do not know that a virus causes cervical cancer.

A new study by the Lancet Group of Labs and Consumer Options among women in major Kenyan cities has revealed that almost all of them (97 per cent) do not know that a virus causes cervical cancer.

The women were sampled in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu for the study, which had 327 respondents aged between 18 and 60. Majority of the respondents (65 per cent) were married.

Dr Ahmed Kalebi, the chief executive officer of Lancet Group of Labs, said the ignorance of the cancer despite its prevalence in Kenya was a shocking surprise and a great concern.

The study also revealed that younger women, below 35, were not only receptive to new technology, but also did not mind self-collection of samples from their bodies for HPV testing due to the privacy that it offers and the quicker methodology of testing.

“The fact that less than five per cent of women know about the link between the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer should be a wake-up call to all stakeholders, for without awareness, it is unlikely that women would seek HPV vaccination, including for themselves and their daughters, and also unlikely that they’ll appreciate the value of HPV testing,” he said.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the data gathering arm of World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer claimed the lives of 15,039 Kenyan women in 2012 — 2,451 of these died of cervical cancer and another 4,802 were suffering from this type of cancer.

SPREAD SEXUALLY

HPV is spread sexually and women tend to be infected with it at one time or another in their lives, especially early on during their sexual debut. Whereas in the majority of women the immune system clears away HPV naturally, for a small percentage, the virus persists in the cervix, leading to cellular changes in the cervical cells that progresses over five to 15 years to become cancerous, and eventually manifesting as cervical cancer. 

Dr Kalebi added that the level of awareness about HPV could even be much lower in rural areas, where literacy levels and access to information is already poor.

The Lancet carried out cancer screening services last year during which women were tested to identify, among many other factors, whether they had the virus before it progressed to pre-cancerous and cancer stages

“Just like HIV testing is done to identify those infected before they progress to the stage of immunodeficiency, so should HPV be tested before women progress to pre-cancerous and cancer stages because once identified as positive, someone can be treated,” said Dr Kalebi.

The study also revealed that younger women, below 35, were not only receptive to new technology, but also did not mind self-collection of samples from their bodies for HPV testing due to the privacy that it offers and the quicker methodology of testing.

Older women felt the new kits should be given to younger girls, whom they imagined were more susceptible to the virus.