Cancer of any kind, in any part of the world, is a travesty.
It is particularly problematic in India where more than 80% of cancers are diagnosed late.
And to have cervical cancer is nothing short of a tragedy. The intersectionality of cancer, gender and low-resource settings causes unparalleled suffering.
To distill down just a few of the issues around this disease:
Women are discriminated against and are denied timely treatment in our society. Cervical cancer affects women in their sexual organs, which makes it a disease veiled in lethal silence. The already poor health-seeking behaviour of women is further exacerbated. Women eventually seek help when the condition is beyond help. Advanced cervical cancer often causes malodorous discharge and bleeding, which can trigger shame, humiliation, isolation and severe distress. The pain associated with cervical cancer can be especially difficult to control due to its location – an area replete with sensitive nerve endings.
Evidence indicates that upto 45% of women with the disease are abandoned by their partners.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that, paradoxically, this disease is almost completely preventable by vaccinating adolescent girls, but India does not yet have a comprehensive immunisation program in this context. This kind of cancer is almost completely curable if detected and treated early.
And yet, India has approximately 120,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed annually, and bears about a fifth of the global burden.
It is a systemic failure on a colossal level that allows this kind of suffering to run riot unabated.
On the 16th of June 2021, Smriti Rana and Dr M R Rajagopal from Pallium India joined the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and WHO to discuss this issue with the aim to seek solutions.
Any issue that causes so much suffering to our own, is something that all of us should be concerned about.
You can watch the proceedings at: Cervical Cancer Elimination series – Estimating and responding to the suffering of women with cervical cancer | WHO-UICC