MISLEADING: Eating ugali has not been directly linked to cervical cancer

August 2019 theStar; An article published by Parents Africa Magazine titled: “Ugali linked to cervical cancer” has a FALSE HEADLINE.

The article that has been queued as potentially false, purports that eating ugali has been linked to cancer, specifically cervical cancer in women.

The article cites research carried out on women at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in a paper titled “Detection and concentration of plasma aflatoxin is associated with detection of oncogenic human papillomavirus in Kenyan women” published in the Open Forum Infectious Diseases (OFID) Journal.

According to the paper, chronic ingestion of aflatoxin in food products increases the risk of cervical cancer among women. While high levels of aflatoxin have been linked to cancer of the liver, but there is limited data on the effects of aflatoxin on other human cancers.

Aflatoxin is a poison produced by the Aspergillus fungus, and it affects cereals, nuts, and other dry foods during storage or in the field. Aflatoxin poisoning is a food safety and security issue, particularly for people living in developing countries with temperate and tropical climates. Aflatoxins occur when food is poorly stored, and pose a serious health threat to humans and livestock.

Dietary aflatoxin is a potent carcinogen, and the study identifies contaminated maize meal — the main ingredient in ugali — as well as contaminated sorghum, millet, groundnuts and milk, as the most likely sources. Repeated exposure to dietary aflatoxin also has the potential to weaken the immune system, leaving the body less able to destroy cancer cells.

The study states that consuming contaminated corn products, could be a contributing factor to the rising cases of cervical cancer among women in the country. Research on cervical cancer shows that Human Papillomavirus infection is also a contributing factor in causing cervical cancer.

However, the study worked with a small sample of 86 women, and out these, 49, or 57 per cent, tested positive for aflatoxin. The prevalence of HPV was found to be high among the women who also tested positive for aflatoxin, but this alone is not conclusive enough for a definitive link to be made between the two.

Aflatoxins are likely to be a cofactor in addition to the human papillomavirus (HPV), making infection more likely to lead to cancer. While most women with HPV don’t automatically develop cervical cancer, risk factors such as smoking and HIV infection increases the risk of developing cancer among women exposed to the virus.

However, no definitive link has been established between HPV and consuming food with aflatoxins.

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