March 20, 2017 |

Empowering women with the tools to survive cancer

Here's how we help women around the world beat cervical and breast cancer.
An adolescent girl in a school uniform smiles at the camera.
Why is Sarah smiling? Because she got a vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) through PATH’s HPV vaccine project and now she’s protected for life from cervical cancer. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

Diluted vinegar. A flashlight. A set of trained eyes. These are the main requirements for a cervical cancer screening tool, called VIA, which put PATH front and center in the push to prevent cervical cancer around the globe.

I was finishing my training to be a gynecological oncologist in my native Peru in the 1990s when PATH began advancing VIA (visual inspection with acetic acid, or vinegar). Day after day, I met women with cervical cancer too advanced to be cured. And I grieved with families whose mothers, daughters, and sisters were dying of an illness that could—and should—have been prevented.

Cervical cancer is preventable through vaccination or through screening and early treatment. Yet this year, it will kill more than 260,000 women around the globe—85 percent of them in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Unless prevention is scaled up dramatically, 19 million women could die from cervical cancer in the next 40 years.

PATH needs your support to make sure that doesn’t happen. Make a gift today.

Incredible strides and an end in sight.

In Peru, I worked patient by patient to increase access to VIA and other lifesaving screening tools. Today, I work at PATH—where we partner with countries to do the same thing on a global scale.

PATH has been making breakthroughs to prevent diseases for 40 years. As my colleagues advance innovative solutions for malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and dozens of other health problems, my team is doing the same for cancers that kill women.

The tools and technologies to prevent cervical cancer are evolving at a breathtaking pace. We specialize in adapting these new solutions—and creating new ones—then taking them to scale to save lives.

A school classroom filled with school girls.
Girls at Nakasongola Primary School in Uganda were part of PATH’s pilot program for the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.
  • Preventing cancer before it starts: PATH helped India, Peru, Uganda, and Vietnam create systems to reach girls with a vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes most cervical cancer. Since then, we’ve advised more than 25 countries on expanding access to this lifesaving vaccine.
A lab technician uses a dropper to perform a test.
As part of PATH’s Scale-Up Project, lab technicians in Central America are learning to process DNA tests for HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer. Photo: PATH/Rose Slavkovsky.
  • Screening early to treat early: For the millions of women already exposed to the virus, we worked with a diagnostic company to adapt its HPV test and validate it in low-resource settings. Best of all, this DNA test detects infection using a sample that women collect themselves, in private—a potential game changer in places where taboos discourage women from seeking pelvic exams.
  • Vinegar for visibility: For the 10 to 15 percent of women who test positive for HPV, VIA—which uses diluted vinegar to highlight cervical changes—is now widely used in low-resource settings to look for precancer and guide treatment decisions.
  • Quick, effective treatment: We’re also working with partners who are developing affordable and portable cervical cancer treatment technologies, including a battery-powered tool that uses heat to remove precancerous cells.

But we’re far from finished. Today, thanks in part to support for PATH from our donor community, cervical cancer elimination is actually within reach if we can scale up prevention, screening, and treatment globally. Your gift to PATH helps make this kind of impact possible.

Breast cancer survival depends on early detection

PATH is bringing the same ingenuity we’ve demonstrated with cervical cancer to the fight against breast cancer.

Four people stand together in a row.
Through a partnership with the Peruvian government, PATH is increasing the odds of survival for women like Angela Gonzalez (pictured with her mom and two of her children) with a new, community-based model for breast cancer detection. Photo: PATH/Daniel San Martin.

When diagnosed in the early stages, most women can beat breast cancer. In wealthy countries, more than 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive, but in less developed parts of the world, women face significantly worse odds.

PATH partnered with Peru’s national cancer institute to design a model of care that trains providers at all levels of the health care system to recognize early signs of breast cancer, guide women to diagnosis, and help them navigate the medical maze during treatment.

We’ve refined this model in one community, and now we’re rolling it out to other parts of Peru. And we’re adapting it for different cultural settings, starting with Uganda.

Your support is vital

Bringing lifesaving innovations like this to women everywhere takes time and money—and we urgently need your help.

Although my work is inspired by memories of women who lost their battles to cancer, I am filled with optimism about the future. At PATH, our innovations protect people from disease, enable women to plan their families, save newborns, and help children grow up healthy. Our commitment—one I hope you share—is to ensure that every woman and child has an equal chance for a healthy life. That’s what your support of PATH makes possible.

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  • Headshot or the author
    José Jerónimo was formerly the senior advisor for women’s cancers at PATH.