Cervical cancer is the leading cause of female cancer in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) despite being a largely preventable disease.1 One of the primary reason cervical cancer remains a leading cause of cancer is due to a lack of national screening programs. In fact, only 44% of women in LMICs have been screened for cervical cancer (compared to 60% in high-income countries).2 In Uganda, where I am conducting my doctoral work, cervical cancer accounts for 36% of all female cancer cases.3 Furthermore, the majority of the women diagnosed are of reproductive age, which means that many of them have children and are financial providers.3, 4 As such, one of the primary objectives for my doctoral project, ASPIRE GENERATIONS, is to provide more evidence for to expand global cervical cancer screening programs. Although there is a wealth of evidence on the clinical and psychological impacts that a cervical cancer diagnosis has on women, less is known about the social and economic impacts not only for women, but their children as well.
Our team has a strong partnership with the Uganda Cancer Institute and has worked for over ten years with their research team on multiple projects. For my research, we collaborated to develop a study to better understand the social and economic impacts of cervical cancer on women and their children in Uganda. Currently, the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala is the only centralized treatment center in the country. Although cancer treatment is free in Uganda, many women incur other costs related to their treatment, such as taking time off work or traveling across the country for care. As many families depend on women for financial and social support, this can have a profound impact on their children. Furthermore, cervical cancer can be a stigmatizing disease. Many women in similar countries have reported feeling rejected from their partners and families.5-7 This can significantly impact their mental health and overall well-being.
The study was launched in September 2022 and we enrolled 351 women over the course of four months. Preliminary data analysis has shown that women often have to spend multiple nights away from their homes and families to attend treatment. Furthermore, daughters are often heavily relied on to support their mothers while they undergo treatment. The results from this study will be used to further support the expansion of cervical cancer screening programs not only in Uganda, but globally as well. There is no reason why women should be diagnosed at such high rates of this preventable disease.
This blog article was written by Hallie Dau, MPH. Hallie is a PhD candidate at the at the School of Population and Public Health at UBC. Her research focuses on the impact of cervical cancer on women and families in low- and middle-income countries. She is supervised by Dr. Gina Ogilvie. Hallie previously completed her MPH at the George Washington University where she focused on global maternal and child health. Twitter: @Hallie_Dau