A new project is to screen some 283,000 women for cervical cancer across the country in hopes catching and treating lesions that could lead cancers affecting the neck of the womb.
Some nine out of 10 women have never screened for cancers affecting the neck of the womb. The Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention Therapy, launched by three groups - Marie Stopes International, Society for Family Health and Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria - with support from the federal health ministry will use 156 screening sites around the country. The sites will test by visual inspection using acetic acid (VIA)- a new testing method - while additional 20 new sites will offer treatment using cryotherapy - killing off cancerous lesions by freezing them in liquid nitrogen to allow new cells grow.
The Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention Therapy (CCSPT) hinges on VIA, a new technology judged cheaper. “The point is to pilot that for four years and then to have this body of evidence and result that we can use to go back to the government to scale it up and make it available to all women across the country,” said Richard Boustred, country director for Marie Stopes. Untested, unknown Up to 95% of women in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa have never screened for cervical cancer - the second most common cancer affecting women, experts say.
“The number of women attended to at most service delivery points will give a history of either it being their first time of being seen, or [their symptoms] give us diagnosis that the poor woman suffers cervical cancer without knowing,” said Oscar Ambani, regional medical advisor for Marie Stopes International. Experts have called for more widespread screening of women, but health authorities say several factors are preventing women from getting tested. “We have failed as a national to mount expansive programmes of screening all our women,” said Dr Fred Achem, president of Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria. “That is why a lot of women are coming to hospital with lesions.” Discomfort about screening which is usually invasive is thought to put many women off testing for cervical cancer.
“There are places the men will not even allow their women to be screened, both in the south and the north, because of [the] screening process,” said health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu, represented by the ministry’s coordinator for National Cancer Control and Medical Physics Programme, Dr Rahmatu Hassan. Lesions can be treated and the resulting cancer prevented if caught early. Onset of cervical cancer is triggered by the presence of human papilloma virus, prompting the push to vaccination young girls against HPV before they become sexually active.