New cervical cancer screening launched in Kenya
The new technology identifies 14 high-risk virus strains, including the types that cause over 70 pct of cervical cancer
By Andrew Wasike
A new cervical cancer screening technology was launched in Kenya Tuesday with the aim of preventing the disease, which is the second-most common cancer among Kenyan women after breast cancer.
The new molecular technology, which can accurately establish whether one is facing the risk of having cervical cancer, was launched by Lancet Kenya, the largest independent medical laboratory network in East Africa, headquartered in South Africa.
Kenya’s Health Ministry says that over 4,800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually in Kenya, and fully half die from the disease.
Speaking at the launch of the new technology, Dr. Ahmed Kalebi, Lancet Group managing director East Africa, said that a great number of deaths will be prevented by accurately detecting the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes over 70 percent of cervical cancer, and by treating cervical cancer before it develops.
“The new screening technology, dubbed Cobas, tests for the presence of HPV in the cervix and cervico-vaginal canal, and gives a clear indication of a woman’s risk of developing this type of cancer, thereby enhancing efforts to effectively combat the disease in Kenya,” Kalebi told reporters.
He added that Cobas specifically identifies 14 different high-risk strains of the virus that are linked directly to pre-cancerous changes, including the type 16 and type 18 strains that cause over 70 percent of cervical cancer.
Kalebi said that the current screening techniques used in Kenya are pap smear and visual inspection, both which fail to check for the presence of high-risk HPV virus strains.
“The current tests look for abnormal changes in the cells and tissue of the cervix that may be a sign of cancer. At the point of detection, it may be too late, as the changes caused by the virus may be fairly advanced,” he said.
For his part, Rajen Bhimaraj from Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Roche said that his company, which manufactured the device that detects the virus’ DNA, is committed to working with Kenya’s medical community to encourage providers to incorporate the new screening strategy alternative to prevent cervical cancer deaths.
“Women at high risk will then be advised to seek further consultation to be checked whether the high-risk HPV has caused changes in the cells and tissues of the cervix that may lead to cancer. With the entry of the Cobas HPV test, only a small fraction of Kenyan women – 7 percent to 15 percent, will still need to undergo the annual pap smear test,” Bhimaraj said.
The technology will be rolled out across East African countries – Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania – in the weeks and months to come.