Guyana is leading the list of countries in the Region of the Americas for reported cases of cervical cancer.
This is according to statistics provided by the Health Ministry, showing that there was an age-standardised incidence rate of 32.7 per 100,000 women in 2018. The statistics for 2019 and 2020 are not available as yet.
However, between 2013 and 2017, cervical cancer was listed as the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in Guyana. There were 523 new cases, representing 16 per cent of all reported cases. Within this time, 185 deaths were reported from cervical cancer.
National VIA Coordinator at the Ministry, Dr Martin Campbell highlighted that deaths from cervical cancer were higher among women of African and East Indian ancestry. But Amerindian women have a very high incidence of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer.
The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) was responsible for 99 per cent of the cases detected. Campbell reminded that the HPV infection by itself is not sufficient for developing cervical cancer since it usually requires the presence of other risk elements such as family history, sexual and reproductive history, smoking, immunosuppression, overweight and unhealthy eating diets.
Once diagnosed, it is important to seek appropriate treatment at an early stage in the form of radical surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as psychological and social support.
The month of January is dedicated to cervical cancer awareness. Recently, Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony expressed that authorities are working to improve the landscape of eliminating cervical cancer. The most important aspect to note is that this type of cancer is preventable.
“The reason why we have dedicated January as cervical cancer awareness month is to really bring focus on cervical cancer. This is the second most prevalent cancer among women in Guyana, the first being breast cancer. But this is a cancer that is preventable. I don’t think a lot of people realise that. If we do the right things, we can prevent and eliminate cervical cancer from Guyana. That is why we want to heighten the awareness,” he had explained.
In Guyana, there is a three-tier framework in preventing cervical cancer; namely primary, secondary and tertiary. The primary stage is a simple human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which prevents the development of the disease. Presently, the vaccination rate for the first dose stands just over 30 per cent and the second round at about 13 per cent. He said the immunisation programme had commenced under the last PPP Administration but was not sustained. As such, a plan is underway to improve these statistics in 2021.
The second level prevention surrounds a visual examination of older women as they visit the health unit, since persons who have contracted Sexually Transmitted Infections are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. While this initiative is in place, not many women utilise the services.
“Unfortunately, not many women use the opportunity to go and check themselves to ensure that they don’t have cancer. This is another area that we want to ensure that women come forward for this type of screening. We’re able to offer VIA (direct visual inspection) and we’re also able to offer pap smears and if we detected any abnormalities, then we can provide the right treatment at that point in time,” the Minister shared.
The last stage is surgery if these signs are missed and it is required to treat the patient – a procedure which hospitals are equipped to perform, however, Dr Anthony said the Ministry is looking at early detections.