While the world celebrates the “pink October” campaign to fight breast cancer throughout the month of October, another form of cancer affecting women is less publicized, yet it is the 2nd most common form of cancer. in Morocco among women against the 4th in the world. How is it contracted? And how to act?
Cervical cancer is not as publicized as breast cancer, and for good reason, it is still surrounded by social embarrassment related to sexuality since it is above all the result of a human papillomavirus (HPV) sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, there are some simple ways to prevent this cancer from occurring and prevent it from developing.
According to the latest figures identified in Morocco, covering the period 2008 – 2012, a total of 24,231 new cancer cases were diagnosed in the Casablanca-Settat region, i.e. a crude incidence rate of 120.4 cancer cases. per 100,000 inhabitants, representing a standardized incidence on the Moroccan population of 115.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Of these 24,231 new cases, no less than 13,394 were women, indicates the Casablanca-Settat region cancer registry, which may be representative of Morocco as a whole, according to Dr. Karima Bendahhou, epidemiologist, and head of the registry. of the Institute for Research on Cancer (IRC).
Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer in Moroccan women. In 2020, it represented 7.2% of new reported cases of cancer, after breast cancer with 38.9, according to reports from the Global Cancer Observatory (GCO), despite a sharp decrease over the years.
High prevalence of cervical cancer in Morocco
In the world, in general, cancer of the cervix of the uterus ranks 4th among the most common cancers representing 6.5% of the forms of cancer developed in women, after that of the breast, colon, followed by the lungs. .
It is also in 7th position in terms of prevalence in the world, without distinction between the sexes, according to the Global Cancer Observatory (GCO), the benchmark platform in terms of cancer statistics in the world.
In Africa, Morocco is classified in the second most affected category (alongside Mali, Cameroon, Mauritania, Chad, etc.). This form of cancer is also the most widespread on the continent, especially in West Africa.
“A few years ago, it was the first cancer detected in women (in Morocco), but in recent times and thanks to efforts at screening and early diagnosis, it has taken second place after the breast,” he said. said Dr. Rachid Berrada, gynecologist, in a statement to MoroccoLatestNews in French.
In the Maghreb, Morocco is the most affected by this type of cancer, followed by Libya (3rd), and Algeria and Tunisia (4th). According to experts, this high prevalence in Morocco compared to neighboring countries is explained by screening which is done more frequently in Morocco and at the national cancer control plan which has proved its worth.
“Compared to other countries, at home, there are cases that go unnoticed”, the fact that Morocco is ranked higher than the other countries in the region is “an advantage, it is not a disadvantage. It is because we seek, and when we seek, we find, ”explains the doctor.
How does cancer develop?
Stemming from a virus, the papillomavirus, cancer of the cervix is the result of the aggravation of this virus transmitted through sexual relations. According to Dr. Rachid Berrada, gynecologist, not all papillomavirus infections necessarily or immediately turn into cancer, and this virus can live for several years in a woman’s body before the cells become cancerous. at 20 or 30.
“The virus becomes embedded in cells and transforms their genetic code which produces tumor cells (cancerous)”, says Dr. Berrada, explaining the pattern of transformation of HPV into cancer.
Asked if man is the main cause of this virus, the gynecologist believes that there is no way to know exactly since it is difficult to trace patient zero (the first to be contaminated).
One thing is certain, however, this type of cancer is the result of a multiplication of sexual partners, and a monogamous relationship or the use of condoms, considerably limits the possibility of contracting this virus which must be treated in both women and men. men.
Indeed, men are themselves carriers of this virus, says the specialist, but they never develop into cancer in circumcised men. In others, it is possible that it turns into cancer of the foreskin, he says.
Cancer of the cervix can be fatal too. Among women in Morocco, out of 10,400 cases of cancer-related deaths, 27.6% were linked to breast cancer, and 10.3% to cervical cancer, representing the second form of mortality, or 2,258 cases in 2014, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In 2020, the number of deaths caused by cancer in Moroccan women reached 14,940 cases, including 1,119 due to the cervix, according to statistics from the CGO, a sharp drop linked to early detection.
Solutions against HPV cancer
This screening is done by a cytological examination, commonly called a “vaginal smear” which is carried out by a gynecologist and by visual inspection with acetic acid in the case of sexually active women. The pap smear, a painless examination, must be done every three years, according to Dr. Berrada, who adds that at present, only 4 types of this virus out of sixty cause cancer, hence the interest smear that can detect the cancerous form.
And to prevent infection with this virus from turning into cancer, the specialist suggests vaccinating young girls with the HPV vaccine in adolescence around the age of 14-15 years, before they have of sexual relations because this vaccine proves to be useless afterwards.
A girl who had the HPV vaccine “is well protected because it is a vaccine that protects against viral infection. She won’t get cancer even if she gets HPV later ”.
Regarding couples about to get married and wanting to protect themselves against this virus, a serological examination is possible, however it is very expensive and the smear examination is not possible on a virgin woman since it is impossible to access the cervix, and in men, this virus which affects the skin, can disappear with washing, only it does not disappear completely, warns the specialist.
For example, “a man can get the virus after intercourse, he can wash himself off and the virus goes away, as he can also keep some virus particles, but there is no risk (for him), at most he can get warts, ”says the doctor. “But these warts are the cousins of HPV which gives rise to cancer,” he warns.
Thus two solutions exist, to protect, the condom is the only option, and to monitor, the passage through the smear box every 3 years must become a habit for women.
And upstream, “there must be sex education even in primary schools, awareness among women, and simply vaccinate young girls. When you become aware of the problem, you solve half of the problem, ”concludes the specialist.