Jan 13, 2010
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women worldwide. About 83% of cervical cancer cases occur in developing countries (see study). Radiotherapy techniques such as teletherapy and brachytherapy have high cure rates in the treatment of cervical cancers. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), through its Department of Technical Cooperation (TC) and Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), helps its Member States to combat cancer through the effective and sustainable transfer of radiation medicine.
Some of the highest cancer death rates in the world are found in Latin America. For the 3.5 million women living in El Salvador, cervical cancer is a real threat. In 1999, the Government established the Directorate for Integrated Health Care for Women. One of the main priorities of the Directorate is the prevention and monitoring of cervical cancer through screening and treatment programmes. A 2002 study by the World Health Organization found that there were some 1200 new cervical cancer cases in El Salvador each year, but the country had no hospital equipped to treat the disease.
The IAEA has been working with El Salvador on the treatment of cervical cancer since 1997. Much time and effort has been spent in laying the groundwork for the establishment of a radiotherapy programme. The Government of El Salvador organized the training of hospital staff, built a bunker to hold radiotherapy equipment, purchased an iridium-source through the IAEA and established a national regulatory framework and radiation protection controls. Working with two main counterparts, the Instituto de Cancer de El Salvador (ICES) and the Rosales National Hospital, the IAEA has provided training fellowships, scientific visits and expert missions for Government and hospital staff to ensure that the developing radiotherapy programme would be safe and effective. The counterpart institutions have provided the personnel, facilities and equipment necessary to participate in IAEA projects to strengthen integrated care for women suffering from invasive cervical cancer.
Today, the Instituto de Cancer de El Salvador (ICES) is the first and only facility in El Salvador capable of treating cervical cancer on an outpatient basis. Where once there were no option for a cure, thousands of women from El Salvador and neighbouring countries now undergo life-saving cervical cancer treatment each year.
“From before the institute is open in the morning, until closing at night, women are lined up, waiting to be treated. In the last 16 months, over 1800 women have been treated.” said Programme Management Officer Beatriz Miranda-Da-Cruz upon her return from a mission to El Salvador that included a visit to the ICES.
El Salvador is working with the IAEA to improve its cancer care services through projects focused on human resource development in radiation oncology, improving the quality of radiotherapy treatment and strengthening quality assurance and diagnostic radiology auditing capacities in the El Salvador national hospital network.
The thousands of women who can now receive cervical cancer treatment in El Salvador are proof of the impact that IAEA projects can have for people in developing countries.