Treating Cervical Cancer In Poor Countries

Results of an International Atomic Energy Agency study on effective brachytherapy in resource-poor settings.
Jason Socrates Bardi, Editor

(Inside Science) -- According to Sushil Beriwal at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, “Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in low- and middle-income countries. And if not treated it could lead to death. And it’s probably the second-most common cause of cancer death in developing countries.”

“Cervix cancer is a disease that shouldn't happen. It can be detected early so we can get rid of it early without need for advanced treatments and stuff like that,” said May Abdel-Wahab from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In 2017, May-Wahab presented findings of an International Atomic Energy Agency study on the effectiveness of brachytherapy in treating cervix cancer.

“The issue with cervix cancer is also it happens to women. The time and lifelong women, who are still raising their families, who are still going through the social economic impact and the effect of society is huge,” said Abdel-Wahab.

“Brachytherapy is an invasive procedure where you deliver radiation from inside. So, it’s an invasive form of radiation therapy. But the reason why it is important is because that’s the one way you can deliver high doses to the cancer,” said Beriwal.

“The reason the study is done is to see whether we can give less fractions or numbers of radiation in cervix cancer,” said Abdel-Wahab.

“Now in a resource-crunched environment, you want to achieve the same outcome with less number of treatments. Now brachytherapy, when you do it for cervical cancer, you could give two to five treatments. So, there is a range of treatment, and nobody knows what is the right number of fractions,” said Beriwal.

“So, what we found is giving the two fractions of radiation internally was not as good as giving the four fractions,” said Abdel-Wahab.

“But the difference was not that big, so if somebody cannot make it to four fractions, and you cannot travel for four fractions, it’s better to do two fractions than not do anything, so it does give you an objective number to discuss with the patient, that if they’re traveling from a distance and you cannot come for four fractions we can probably do two, and we can probably achieve a goal very close to what we want to achieve, but not as good as we want to achieve,” said Beriwal.

“That’s the best thing about cervix cancer is that, you know, there is so much that can be done, early diagnosis, etc., and it is something that we can actually overcome if we work together,” concluded Abdel-Wahab.


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Jason Socrates Bardi is the former News Director of the American Institute of Physics and a longtime science writer.