More women in India die from cervical cancer than in any other country, according to a new report that warns deaths from this preventable disease will rise unless attitudes to women change. Cervical cancer kills around 72,000 women in India every year, more than 26% of the 275,000 deaths worldwide, says the report by the Cervical Cancer Free Coalition, published Friday.
“Cervical cancer is a taboo issue in many places as it is linked to sexual transmission. Unless women’s groups and civil society join together to lead movements that break through stigma, patriarchy and other societal barriers, we will continue to see large numbers of deaths and high mortality rates,” the U.S.-based group said in a statement.
Cervical cancer, which mostly affects women aged between 18 and 45, is linked to human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that can also cause genital warts. A pap smear, or colposcopy, can spot cervical cancer at an early stage, and HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines have been developed.
The vast majority of deaths from cervical cancer occur in low and middle-income countries, where vaccines and screening aren’t widely available.
India, China, Brazil, Bangladesh and Nigeria account for more than 50% of cervical cancer deaths worldwide, CCFC says. The mortality rate is highest in Africa, led by Zambia with 38.6 deaths per 100,000 people. The mortality rate in India is 15.2, according to a chart CCFC compiled using data from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Agency for Research on Cancer Globocan.
“Major barriers need to be addressed, community mobilization is critical to educate the public on the importance of screening and to break down cultural barriers about discussing sexual issues,” Usha Rani Poli, an associate professor at the MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Center in Hyderabad, said in the statement.
Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh, who overcame a rare form of cancer last year, has lent his support to raising awareness on cervical cancer. “I want to motivate more and more people to go out and get themselves screened. I also want to remove the stigma attached to the word C, especially in southern Asia,” the 31-year-old said. The CCFC suggests countries should follow the example of Australia — which has the lowest cervical cancer mortality rate at 1.4 per 100,000 — in providing HPV vaccines and other treatments.