Cervical Cancer Prevention

April 07, 2021

Cervical cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer diagnosed in women globally. In India too, studies show that every eight minutes, one woman dies of cervical cancer. 

To discuss the challenges associated with this illness and deliberate upon primary and secondary prevention approaches, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai organized an online panel discussion on the subject on March 23, 2021, the third webinar of its series, Screenings that Save: A Seminar Series on Cancer Diagnosis and Prevention. 

While the number of cervical cancer cases certainly paints a grim picture, the positive news is that it remains one of the most preventable and treatable cancers when identified early. Yet despite the known efficacy of cervical screening, many women in India do not avail of it due to lack of awareness, the associated sexual stigma, and various sociocultural misconceptions, posited Dr. Sharmila Pimple, Professor of Preventive Oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital, and a panelist for the session. Dr. Pimple identified the social stigma associated with cancer in general, poor quality infrastructure, and lack of confidence in the healthcare system as additional challenges associated with establishing preventive programs in this area.

Louise Kuhn, Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has added its own difficulties with fewer women opting for routine screening during the pandemic. Professor Kuhn addressed deficiencies in traditional cervical screening practices and discussed newer innovations in low-and-middle-income countries that could be utilized to counterbalance the fear and discomfort associated with cervical cancer testing, including screen-and-treat approaches, self-sampling, and a shift from pap smear testing to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination and testing. She emphasized that an effective cervical screening program must have wide coverage, accurately identify individuals at risk of developing or having early cervical cancer, and must be able to provide access to treatment if required. To execute such a screening program, health systems need to be reorganized to ensure efficacy and inequities within the health systems need to be addressed systematically, he suggested. 

Shedding light on disease prevention and treatment strategies for controlling cervical cancer incidence globally, Dr. Pimple recommended that India pursue timely vaccination in young girls, regular screening tests in sexually active and middle-aged women, and targeted treatment for women diagnosed with cervical cancer disease. 

The discussants concluded that optimizing existing interventions coupled with continued commitment and investment in understanding and overcoming the psychosocial, institutional, and access barriers can provide the impetus for eliminating cervical cancer cases in future. The panel received positive feedback from an audience that comprised oncologists, concerned citizens and members of women’s health groups from around the world.