In South Africa, cervical cancer statistics are unacceptably high. The disease affects one out of every 41 women and it is estimated that 8 women die from it every day. A 2015 study, published in the South African Medical Journal, revealed that the incidence (the number of new cases) of late stages of cervical cancer is high. Furthermore, many women have poor response to cervical cancer treatment.
South Africa’s current cervical cancer prevention programme for the public health sector offers three cervical cytology smears (Pap smears) per lifetime. These start once women reach the age of 30 and are carried out at 10-year intervals. In the private sector, more regular Pap smears are well accepted, but not uniformly implemented. Despite this, research conducted in South Africa shows that only between 12% and 20% of eligible women have ever had a Pap smear.
Something needs to change. And it is.
The South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG) has announced that screening for human papillomavirus (HPV detection) “will replace traditional cervical cytology in the next few years. Patient-collected (self-sampling) specimens will cater for a large number of women who may not have access to healthcare facilities.”
SASOG’s decision is based on worldwide findings, such as a study in the USA, which showed that “primary hrHPV (high-risk human papillomavirus) screening is an important scientific and clinical advance in cervical cancer screening since it offers better reassurance of low cancer risk compared to cytology-only screening.”
In another large study conducted in the UK, HPV testing as an initial screen was significantly more protective over three screening rounds (six years) than the current practice of cytology.
Australia’s study showed that an HPV test every five years can save more lives and women would need fewer tests than in the country’s current two-yearly Pap test programme.
In South Africa, Pap smear services are well established in the private sector and certain provinces of the public sector. Adoption of HPV primary screening by the medical sector will take time.
So how can you test yourself today?
UDoTest offers the UDoHPVTest, an effective cervical cancer screening alternative, offering 90 to 95 percent accuracy. It’s easy (you can do it at home and do not need a doctor’s appointment), quick (it takes 30 seconds to do) and saves lives (it is 95 percent specific in detecting HPV).
Early HPV diagnosis is crucial so cell abnormalities can be treated before they become cervical cancer. In the precancerous stage, which can be detected by an HPV test, treatment of cervical cancer is very effective.
Remember that there are often no symptoms of HPV infection, making it all the more critical to have regular screening for HPV and cervical cancer.