Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer morbidity and mortality in women in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), accounting for about 50,000 deaths annually. Until recently, cytology was the gold standard for screening and prevention of cervical cancer. This method of screening has not been successful in SSA due to a lack of human, financial and material resources and poor health care infrastructure. It is estimated that less than 5% of at risk women have ever being screened. In the past two decades alternative approaches to cytology for cervical cancer screening have been evaluated in low- and medium-income countries. Visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) and/or Lugol's iodine (VILI) have been shown to have adequate sensitivity, although low specificity, in a number of cross-sectional research and demonstration projects. Visual inspection methods require minimal resources, are technologically accessible, and are feasible for screening for precancerous lesions. Linking screening with VIA/VILI to treatment with cryotherapy may enable screening and treatment to take place in one visit, but this is likely to result in large numbers of women being subjected to unnecessary treatment. A number of studies have shown that cryotherapy is not associated with significant side effects or complications and is well tolerated. Creating the infrastructure for screening of older women is considered desirable, despite the limitations of visual inspection methods as screening tests. Understanding the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the etiology of cervical cancer and the discovery of HPV rapid test kits, as well as the development of vaccines against the HPV oncogenic types, have created new opportunities for prevention of cervical cancer. Trials and projects have established (and are still ongoing) the feasibility of using these molecular tests for screening. The ultimate in prevention method is primary prevention, offered by the advent of prophylactic vaccines against the most important oncogenic types, namely HPV16 and 18. This article forms part of a regional report entitled "Comprehensive Control of HPV Infections and Related Diseases in the Sub-Saharan Africa Region" Vaccine Volume 31, Supplement 5, 2013. Updates of the progress in the field are presented in a separate monograph entitled "Comprehensive Control of HPV Infections and Related Diseases" Vaccine Volume 30, Supplement 5, 2012.
Keywords: Cervical cancer prevention; HPV; Sub-Saharan Africa; Trials and projects.
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