Why We're Here
An Unnecessary Threat to Peruvian WomenCervical cancer is one of the deadliest - yet most easily preventable – forms of cancer affecting women. The World Health Organization estimates that more than one million women worldwide are currently living with cervical cancer, with the majority of occurring in low- and middle-income countries. In resource-rich countries, widespread screening and vaccination programs have led to a reduction in the incidence of the disease. In resource-poor countries, these prevention programs are often limited or not available. Treatment options are limited for late stage diagnoses and subsequently death rates are higher.
Peru has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the worldWith a large rural and poor population - mainly the indigenous Quechua-speaking people - the Andes region of Peru is disproportionately impacted by cervical cancer. There are multiple barriers to prevention programs: physical distance to healthcare services; a lack of culture of preventative medicine; poor literacy skills; language barriers; and fear and stigma associated with gynecological issues. As a result, the disease is often not identified until it is at an advanced stage and symptoms are present. At this stage, treatment options are severely limited. Caught early, pre-cancerous cells can be removed or treated. However, a late-stage diagnosis requires chemotherapy or radiation therapy – which is not available in Cusco. This makes it prohibitively expensive for most of the population; without treatment, many die painfully from this preventable disease. In resource-poor regions, the death of a mother places an important burden on the family. Children’s health and education in particular suffer, prolonging the socio-economic deprivation of the next generation. CerviCusco is fighting to change this.
Cervical Cancer Prevention in PeruAn efficient prevention program includes vaccination to avoid the spread of the HPV virus, screening tests to find pre-cancerous lesions and pre-cancer treatment to remove abnormal cells. Although the Peruvian government has initiated some vaccination and screening programs, these are limited in number, geographic location, and eligibility. Prior to CerviCusco’s vaccination program, people in the Cusco region were rarely able to access these services. Rough estimates place screening coverage between 7-43% of the eligible population in Peru. However, according to the World Health Organization, the coverage must be at least 80% in the target population so the incidence and mortality rates can really decrease.
A horrible, nauseating feeling suddenly overcame the normally mellow, experienced physician. There, magnified before his eyes, was the devastating disease too frequently encountered. Josefina, a 42 year old Peruvian indigenous woman had walked for roughly 8 hours to have her first cervical cancer screening examination. Now it was too late. The remaining 12 to 18 months of her life would be a progressive decline. Excruciating pain, uncontrolled vaginal bleeding, blockage of her bowels and bladder, followed by severe emaciation and then terminal coma awaited her. After discussing her dilemma with the team of local and foreign expert health care providers, stunned and silent, she walked away toward her village to tend to her flock of animals. Medical treatment was unaffordable, inaccessible, frightening, and at this point, simply futile.
Though Josefina’s situation continues to be common today in Peru, CerviCusco can help reduce unnecessary death from cervical cancer in the future. CerviCusco will help save the lives of disadvantaged Peruvian women. However, additional support is required to expand our operations so that Josefina’s friends and relatives can live healthy, productive lives.
Peru Facts & Figures
- Cervical cancer is the number 1 source of cancer among women in Peru, with an estimated 4,635 new cases in 2012.
- 1,715 women died from cervical cancer in 2012, making it the second most common cause of cancer deaths among women.
- The incidence of cervical cancer in Peru is over 50% more than the South American average and the mortality rate over a third higher.