Sat | Mar 28, 2020

Cervical cancer third most common cancer among women in Latin America and the Caribbean

Published:Monday | February 11, 2019 | 3:23 PM

As the world commemorated World Cancer Day, on Monday, February 4, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) continues its drive to accelerate prevention and control efforts to create a future without cervical cancer, which is the third most common cancer among women in Latin America and the Caribbean, but one that can be prevented.

Every year, more than 56,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 28,000 die from it. These figures rise to 72,000 diagnoses and 34,000 deaths when the United States and Canada are included. However, lifesaving prevention and treatment tools do exist.

“It is unacceptable that women today die from a disease that can largely be prevented,” said Silvana Luciani, chief of PAHO’s Non-communicable Diseases Unit.

Cervical cancer can be prevented through vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccines that protect against the common types of HPV that cause cancer have been available for over a decade. PAHO recommends administering this vaccine to girls aged nine to 14 years.


In addition to vaccination, screening and treatment of precancerous lesions can prevent new cases and deaths. Over time, cervical cancer can be eliminated as a public health problem, said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in his call to action in May 2018 at the World Health Assembly.

The HPV vaccine is available in 35 countries and territories of the Region of the Americas. However, in most countries, the HPV vaccine coverage rate with the two recommended doses still falls short of the target of at least 80 per cent of girls.

Furthermore, there are gaps in access to services for screening and treatment of precancerous lesions, and screening coverage rates are lower than the target of at least 70 per cent of women aged 30-49 years. It is estimated that at least 32 million women need to be screened for cervical cancer in the Region.

To raise public awareness about the disease, last November PAHO launched the communication campaign “It is time to end cervical cancer”. Under the slogan “Don’t let cervical cancer stop you,” the initiative provides information on HPV vaccines and calls on women to have regular examinations to detect precancerous lesions.

The campaign responds to the plan to reduce new cervical cancer cases and deaths in the region by a third by 2030, as agreed by the region’s ministers of health at the PAHO Directing Council meeting in 2018.

“Governments should adopt urgent measures to ensure that all girls are vaccinated against HPV and that all women over 30 are examined and treated for precancerous lesions,” said Luciani. “Doing this will save the lives of thousands of women.”

This year’s World Cancer Day marks the launch of the three-year campaign with the slogan “I am and I will”, a call to action that empowers and asks for a personal pledge to help reduce cancer’s impact.


* Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Americas.

* In 2018, there were 3,792,000 new cases—21 per cent of the world’s total—and 1,371,000 deaths from cancer in the Region.

* It is anticipated that by 2030, the cancer burden will increase by 32 per cent to more than five million people diagnosed each year in the region, based on the aging population, exposure to risk factors, and the epidemiological transition.

* The highest cancer incidence rates are seen in the United States, Canada, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica, and Costa Rica.

* Cancer mortality is highest in Uruguay, Barbados, Jamaica, Cuba, Argentina, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Chile, and the Dominican Republic.

* Every year, more than 1.8 million new cases and around 658,000 deaths occur among women in the region.

* In women in the Americas, the most common cancers are: breast (462,000 cases), lung (157,000), colorectal (151,000), thyroid (98,000; 16.1/100,000), and cervical (72,000).

* In men, there are almost two million new cases of cancer and some 713,000 deaths in the region every year.

* The most common cancers in men in the Americas are: prostate (425,000 cases), lung (186,000), colorectal (157,000), bladder (91,000), and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (67,000).

* Current scientific evidence indicates that 40 per cent of cancers can be prevented through reduction of risk factors (tobacco use, diets low in fruit and vegetables and high in red meat and processed meat, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, overweight/obesity, exposure of carcinogens in the workplace) and vaccination (hepatitis B and HPV vaccines).

* Another 30 per cent of cancers can be cured if they are detected early and treated appropriately.

* All cases of advanced cancer can benefit from palliative care.