Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer, the most common form of cancer striking women in undeveloped countries, has been called the hidden killer of African women. Often undetected until it is too late, cervical cancer claims the lives of more than 60,000 women in Africa each year. “This tragedy is too common in Malawi,” says PC(USA) mission co-worker Dr. Martha Sommers, a physician at Ekwendeni Hospital in Malawi.
But a simple, low-cost procedure has made early diagnosis of cervical cancer possible in Malawi. At Mulanje Mission Hospital in southern Malawi, trained hospital personnel visually inspect the cervix, aided by the application of vinegar which turns pre-cancerous lesions white. Once identified, the abnormal areas can be removed by cryotherapy, freezing the precancerous cells with carbon dioxide gas. The procedure is effective, inexpensive and painless. Dr. Sue Makin, an obstetrician/gynecologist who recently retired from mission service, pioneered the cervical cancer prevention program at Mulanje almost ten years ago, and trained many Malawian health professionals.
Dr. Makin estimates that the cost of cervical cancer screening is as little as $1 per woman.
In the United States there is great and appropriate interest in preventing and treating cancer of the breast. In poor countries the most common cancer in women is cancer of the cervix, the mouth of the womb. Pap smears have saved thousands of women from developing cancer of the cervix. In poor countries the infrastructure is not there to offer this screening test.