Cervical cancer prevention in countries with the highest HIV prevalence: a review of policies

Cervical cancer (CC) is the leading cause of cancer-related death among women in sub-Saharan Africa. It occurs most frequently in women living with HIV (WLHIV) and is classified as an AIDS-defining illness. Recent World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations provide guidance for CC prevention policies, with specifications for WLHIV. We systematically reviewed policies for CC prevention and control in sub-Saharan countries with the highest HIV prevalence.

We included countries with an HIV prevalence ≥ 10% in 2018 and policies published between January 1st 2010 and March 31st 2022. We searched Medline via PubMed, the international cancer control partnership website and national governmental websites of included countries for relevant policy documents. The online document search was supplemented with expert consultation for each included country. We synthesised aspects defined in policies for HPV vaccination, sex education, condom use, tobacco control, male circumcision,cervical screening, diagnosis and treatment of cervical pre-cancerous lesions and cancer, monitoring mechanisms and cost of services to women while highlighting specificities for WLHIV.

We reviewed 33 policy documents from nine countries. All included countries had policies on CC prevention and control either as a standalone policy (77.8%), or as part of a cancer or non-communicable diseases policy (22.2%) or both (66.7%). Aspects of HPV vaccination were reported in 7 (77.8%) of the 9 countries. All countries (100%) planned to develop or review Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials for CC prevention including condom use and tobacco control. Age at screening commencement and screening intervals for WLHIV varied across countries. The most common recommended screening and treatment methods were visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) (88.9%), Pap smear (77.8%); cryotherapy (100%) and loop electrosurgical procedure (LEEP) (88.9%) respectively. Global indicators disaggregated by HIV status for monitoring CC programs were rarely reported. CC prevention and care policies included service costs at various stages in three countries (33.3%).

Considerable progress has been made in policy development for CC prevention and control in sub Saharan Africa. However, in countries with a high HIV burden, there is need to tailor these policies to respond to the specific needs of WLHIV. Countries may consider updating policies using the recent WHO guidelines for CC prevention, while adapting them to context realities.

Program Planning to Develop Infrastructure for Cancer Care in Liberia

Liberia’s health infrastructure was completely devastated after 14 years of back-to-back civil war. Postconflict rebuilding of the country’s health workforce and infrastructure has become a priority. Initially, the focus was on the diagnosis and treatment of communicable diseases that caused multigenerational family losses. With the increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases, however, the country has turned its attention to addressing diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, with the development of the noncommunicable disease unit under the Ministry of Health. Recovering from another setback caused by the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, the country assembled a diverse group of stakeholders to form Liberia’s first National Cancer Committee. To structure a program that would address the increasing burden of cervical and breast cancers, the major cause of mortality among reproductive-aged women in Liberia, input from the International Atomic Energy Agency was critical. This article describes the preplanning activities for developing infrastructure to support cancer care in Liberia that occurred between 2013 and 2020 and is still ongoing. This case study is intended to serve as a planning guide for countries with limited resources as they work toward the goal of eliminating cervical cancer and developing infrastructure to address their country’s burden of all cancers.

Evolution of patterns of care for women with cervical cancer in Morocco over a decade

We conducted a Pattern-of-care (POC) study at two premier-most public-funded oncology centers in Morocco to evaluate delays in care continuum and adherence to internationally accepted treatment guidelines of cervical cancer.

Following a systematic sampling method, cervical cancer patients registered at Centre Mohammed VI (Casablanca) and Institut National d’Oncologie (Rabat) during 2 months of every year from 2008 to 2017, were included in this retrospective study. Relevant information was abstracted from the medical records.

A total of 886 patients was included in the analysis; 59.5% were at stage I/II. No appreciable change in stage distribution was observed over time. Median access and treatment delays were 5.0 months and 2.3 months, respectively without any significant temporal change. Concurrent chemotherapy was administered to 57.7% of the patients receiving radiotherapy. Surgery was performed on 81.2 and 34.8% of stage I and II patients, respectively. A very high proportion (85.7%) of operated patients received post-operative radiation therapy. Median interval between surgery and initiation of radiotherapy was 3.1 months. Only 45.3% of the patients treated with external beam radiation received brachytherapy. Radiotherapy was completed within 10 weeks in 77.4% patients. An overall 5-year disease-free survival (DFS) was observed in 57.5% of the patients – ranging from 66.1% for stage I to 31.1% for stage IV. Addition of brachytherapy to radiation significantly improved survival at all stages. The study has the usual limitations of retrospective record-based studies, which is data incompleteness.

Delays in care continuum need to be further reduced. Increased use of chemoradiation and brachytherapy will improve survival further.

Cervical cancer therapies: Current challenges and future perspectives

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common female cancer worldwide and results in over 300 000 deaths globally. The causative agent of cervical cancer is persistent infection with high-risk subtypes of the human papillomavirus and the E5, E6 and E7 viral oncoproteins cooperate with host factors to induce and maintain the malignant phenotype. Cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease and early-stage detection is associated with significantly improved survival rates. Indeed, in high-income countries with established vaccination and screening programs it is a rare disease. However, the disease is a killer for women in low- and middle-income countries who, due to limited resources, often present with advanced and untreatable disease. Treatment options include surgical interventions, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy either alone or in combination. This review describes the initiation and progression of cervical cancer and discusses in depth the advantages and challenges faced by current cervical cancer therapies, followed by a discussion of promising and efficacious new therapies to treat cervical cancer including immunotherapies, targeted therapies, combination therapies, and genetic treatment approaches.

Hyperthermia: A Potential Game-Changer in the Management of Cancers in Low-Middle-Income Group Countries

Loco-regional hyperthermia at 40–44 °C is a multifaceted therapeutic modality with the distinct triple advantage of being a potent radiosensitizer, a chemosensitizer and an immunomodulator. Risk difference estimates from pairwise meta-analysis have shown that the local tumour control could be improved by 22.3% (p < 0.001), 22.1% (p < 0.001) and 25.5% (p < 0.001) in recurrent breast cancers, locally advanced cervix cancer (LACC) and locally advanced head and neck cancers, respectively by adding hyperthermia to radiotherapy over radiotherapy alone. Furthermore, thermochemoradiotherapy in LACC have shown to reduce the local failure rates by 10.1% (p = 0.03) and decrease deaths by 5.6% (95% CI: 0.6–11.8%) over chemoradiotherapy alone. As around one-third of the cancer cases in low-middle-income group countries belong to breast, cervix and head and neck regions, hyperthermia could be a potential game-changer and expected to augment the clinical outcomes of these patients in conjunction with radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. Further, hyperthermia could also be a cost-effective therapeutic modality as the capital costs for setting up a hyperthermia facility is relatively low. Thus, the positive outcomes evident from various phase III randomized trials and meta-analysis with thermoradiotherapy or thermochemoradiotherapy justifies the integration of hyperthermia in the therapeutic armamentarium of clinical management of cancer, especially in low-middle-income group countries

Knowledge, awareness, attitudes and screening practices towards breast and cervical cancer among women in Nepal: a scoping review

Breast and cervical cancers have emerged as major global health challenges and disproportionately affect women in low- and middle-income countries, including Nepal. This scoping review aimed to map the knowledge, attitudes and screening practices for these cancers among Nepali women to improve cancer outcomes and reduce inequality.

Five electronic databases (CINAHL, Embase, Global Health, PsycINFO and PubMed), grey literature, and reference and citation lists were searched for articles published in English up to June 2021. Articles were screened against inclusion/exclusion criteria, and data from eligible studies were extracted. Results were summarised narratively.

The search yielded 615 articles, 38 of which were included in this scoping review (27 cervical cancer, 10 breast cancer, 1 both cancers). Levels of knowledge regarding breast and cervical varied widely. The main knowledge gaps were misconceptions about symptoms and risk factors, and poor understanding of screening behaviours. Screening practices were mostly inadequate due to socio-cultural, geographical or financial barriers. Positive attitudes towards cervical screening were associated with higher education and increased knowledge of screening modalities. Higher levels of knowledge, (health) literacy and participation in awareness campaigns facilitated breast cancer screening.

Knowledge and screening practices for breast and cervical cancer among Nepali women were poor and highlight the need for awareness and education programmes. Future research should explore community health worker-led awareness and screening interventions for cervical cancer, and programmes to increase the practice of breast self-examination and clinical breast examinations to support early diagnosis of breast cancer.

Knowledge of Palestinian women about cervical cancer warning signs: a national cross- sectional study

Timely presentation and diagnosis of cervical cancer (CC) are crucial to decrease its mortality especially in low- and middle-income countries like Palestine. This study aimed to evaluate the knowledge of Palestinian women about CC warning signs and determine the factors associated with good knowledge.

This was a national cross-sectional study conducted between July 2019 and March 2020 in Palestine. Stratified convenience sampling was used to recruit adult women from hospitals, primary healthcare centers, and public spaces of 11 governorates. A translated-into-Arabic version of the validated CC awareness measure (CeCAM) was used to assess women’s knowledge of 12 CC warning signs.

Of 8086 approached, 7223 participants completed the CeCAM (response rate = 89.3%). A total of 7058 questionnaires were included in the analysis: 2655 from the Gaza Strip and 4403 from the West Bank and Jerusalem (WBJ). The median age [interquartile range] for all participants was 34.0 [24.0, 42.0] years. Participants recruited from the WBJ were older, getting higher monthly income, and having more chronic diseases than those recruited from the Gaza Strip.

The most frequently identified warning sign was ‘vaginal bleeding after menopause’ (n = 5028, 71.2%) followed by ‘extreme generalized fatigue’ (n = 4601, 65.2%) and ‘unexplained weight loss’ (n = 4578, 64.9%). Only 1934 participants (27.4%) demonstrated good knowledge of CC warning signs. Participants from the Gaza Strip were slightly more likely than participants from the WBJ to have a good level of knowledge. Factors associated with having good knowledge included having a bachelor or postgraduate degree, being married, divorced, or widowed as well as knowing someone with cancer.

The overall awareness of CC warning signs was low. Educational interventions are needed to increase Palestinian women’s awareness of CC warning signs.

Essential Package of Palliative Care for Women With Cervical Cancer: Responding to the Suffering of a Highly Vulnerable Population

Women with cervical cancer, especially those with advanced disease, appear to experience suffering that is more prevalent, complex, and severe than that caused by other cancers and serious illnesses, and approximately 85% live in low- and middle-income countries where palliative care is rarely accessible. To respond to the highly prevalent and extreme suffering in this vulnerable population, we convened a group of experienced experts in all aspects of care for women with cervical cancer, and from countries of all income levels, to create an essential package of palliative care for cervical cancer (EPPCCC). The EPPCCC consists of a set of interventions, medicines, simple equipment, social supports, and human resources, and is designed to be safe and effective for preventing and relieving all types of suffering associated with cervical cancer. It includes only inexpensive and readily available medicines and equipment, and its use requires only basic training. Thus, the EPPCCC can and should be made accessible everywhere, including for the rural poor. We provide guidance for integrating the EPPCCC into gynecologic and oncologic care at all levels of health care systems, and into primary care, in countries of all income levels.

Augmented Package of Palliative Care for Women With Cervical Cancer: Responding to Refractory Suffering

The essential package of palliative care for cervical cancer (EPPCCC), described elsewhere, is designed to be safe and effective for preventing and relieving most suffering associated with cervical cancer and universally accessible. However, it appears that women with cervical cancer, more frequently than patients with other cancers, experience various types of suffering that are refractory to basic palliative care such as what can be provided with the EPPCCC. In particular, relief of refractory pain, vomiting because of bowel obstruction, bleeding, and psychosocial suffering may require additional expertise, medicines, or equipment. Therefore, we convened a group of experienced experts in all aspects of care for women with cervical cancer, and from countries of all income levels, to create an augmented package of palliative care for cervical cancer with which even suffering refractory to the EPPCCC often can be relieved. The package consists of medicines, radiotherapy, surgical procedures, and psycho-oncologic therapies that require advanced or specialized training. Each item in this package should be made accessible whenever the necessary resources and expertise are available.

Dataset evaluating the treatment timeliness of cervical cancer in Zambia

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed among women globally. Effective screening routines and early detection are vital in reducing its disease burden and mortality. Several factors can influence the timely detection and treatment of cervical cancer, especially in low middle-income countries where the burden of this disease is highest. The data presented in this paper relates to the research article “Cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment delays in the developing world: Evidence from a hospital-based study in Zambia”. The raw and analysed data include the studied patients’ social demographic factors, clinical data concerning the stage and histological subtype of cancer, dates at which the various activities within the cancer treatment pathway occurred and delays to definitive treatment of cervical cancer at Zambia’s only cancer treatment facility. Detailing delays to the treatment of cervical cancer allows recognition of specific points in the cancer treatment pathway requiring intervention to effectively improve cancer care and reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with the disease.