UN health agency urges better detection of cervical cancer in developing countries

UN health agency urges better detection of cervical cancer in developing countries

Developing countries must strengthen their capacity to diagnose and treat early forms of cervical cancer, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

Citing research published in the latest issue of WHO's Bulletin, the agency said that while some developing countries in Latin America and Asia have introduced screening over the last 30 years, "generally they have achieved very limited success in controlling cervical cancer in those regions."

Researchers found that although some cytological screening is being done, the tests - often of poor quality - are carried out inadequately.

In the industrialized world, cervical cancer incidence and mortality have fallen substantially thanks to efficient screening programmes involving a cervical smear test, which can detect precursors and early forms of cervical cancer, according to WHO. But at least 8 out of every 10 of the global total of 231,000 deaths a year occur in developing countries, where the disease remains largely uncontrolled.

Numerous poor countries cannot afford screening programmes of any sort. According to the study, there are no organized cervical cancer screening programmes in many Latin American countries, any of the high-risk sub-Saharan countries, or in India, which accounts for one-fifth of the global burden of the disease.

WHO recommends that low-income countries invest in improving their capacity to diagnose and treat cervical cancer precursors and early invasive cancers before considering even limited screening programmes. The agency also suggests that middle-income countries with inefficient programmes should reorganize them.