Regular Cervical Cancer Screenings Improve Early Detection of Precancerous Lesions

Each year in Tanzania, 51 of every 100,000 women die from cervical cancer.  With limited access to cervical cancer screenings and treatment services, only around 20% of those with the disease will survive after 5 years of diagnosis. Women living with HIV are at a higher risk of getting the disease. They are also at a higher risk of the disease progressing to a more severe form as well as death.  Fortunately, with regular cervical screenings, early changes can be treated.  

The Walter Reed Program-Tanzania, through WRAIR and HJFMRI and with support of PEPFAR, is implementing cervical cancer screening programs in four regions of the Southern Highlands Zone (Mbeya, Songwe, Rukwa, and Katavi, with the collaboration of Ministry of Health). Screenings are done by visual inspection with acetic acid where precancerous lesions are treated by cryotherapy or loop electrosurgical excisions depending on the size. These treatments aid in cervical cancer prevention. Between October 2019 and September 2020, HJFMRI screened 35,000 women living with HIV for cervical cancer and treated 400 women with early cervical cancer changes from static clinics using routine visitations and facility-based campaigns. 

Regina Kalinga, a forty-five-year-old housewife and mother of five, heard a PSA for cervical cancer screenings three years ago while she was selling buns. The next day, Regina went to the Vwawa hospital where she was screened. “I was very happy when the doctor told me that I did not have anything to worry about and advised that I should go back for screening after three years” Regina recalls. 

In September 2020, 3 years later, Regina heard that same screening service advertised. She remembered the doctor’s recommendation and decided to get a screening. This time, the doctor found lesions. Fortunately, the doctor informed her that these were caught early and could be treated on the spot. After consultation and counseling, she was treated that same day using cryotherapy. Following treatment, Regina is happy to be able to continue to take care of her family and business. Regina encourages other women to get cervical cancer screenings, which are free of charge. She says, “the health care providers are very supportive, but most importantly, I have learned that early detection saves lives.”