Billions of dollars are spent every year in preventing and treating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Antiretroviral treatments are prolonging life expectancy for people with HIV and giving new hope for the future.
But a quiet tragedy is playing out for thousands of HIV+ women. Despite receiving treatment for HIV, they are not receiving the necessary screening and treatments for cervical cancer. They are being ‘saved’ from HIV only to die from cervical cancer.
Although entirely preventable and treatable, cervical cancer is still the 3rd most common form of cancer in women. 311,000 women die each year needlessly from a disease that can be easily prevented through regular screening.
Women with HIV are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer. The suppressed immune system of an HIV+ women is ill-equipped to fight off the HPV infection that causes the majority of cervical cancer cases. Leaving HIV+ women five times more likely to develop cervical cancer than a woman without HIV. Once pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions are present on the cervix of a women with HIV, the disease progresses at twice the rate of standard non-HIV cases.
There is hope for HIV+ women around the world. Increased understanding of the cervical cancer burden within the HIV/AIDS healthcare community is bringing greater priority and resources to this issue. We hope that 2019 will see an expansion of these programs so that no woman will be treated for HIV but not screened for cervical cancer.