Cervical cancer ‘to be wiped out in England by end of next decade’

Winning combination of improving vaccination and screening uptake could make cervical cancer ‘a thing of the past’

Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Wednesday 15 November 2023 09:57 GMT
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Cervical cancer will be eliminated in England by 2040, the head of the NHS has pledged thanks to new strategies to increase the uptake of vaccines and screenings.

Cervical cancer is found anywhere in the cervix and mainly affects women under the age of 45.

Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and around 850 die, according to Cancer Research UK.

Eliminating cervical cancer will mean fewer than four in every 100,000 women in the population develop the disease.

While the vaccine is already being given in schools, new efforts will be made to increase numbers by giving the vaccine in libraries and sports centres, as well as chasing up women to attend their cervical screenings.

This acceleration in vaccinating and screening will pave the path to the disease’s eradication, Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, will tell the NHS Providers’ conference in Liverpool.

She will say England is one of the first countries in the world to set such an elimination pledge within the next two decades. Australia expects to be the first country in the world to eliminate the disease by 2035.

Cervical cancer is a cancer that’s found anywhere in the cervix (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The main cause of cervical cancer is long-lasting infection of certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV); a group of viruses which can be transmitted through sexual contact and cause no symptoms.

Around 13 high-risk types of HPV are known to cause 99.7 per cent of cervical cancers. As well as tackling cervical cancer, the vaccine helps prevent cancers of the head and neck, and cancers of the anus and genital areas.

Since September, children have been receiving a single dose of the jab when they are in Year 8 rather than the two doses given previously - and latest figures for 2021-2022 show some 86.5 per cent of girls had one dose by Year 10. For boys, that figure is 81.5 per cent.

Under new plans, Ms Pritchard will say health and care staff will receive support in targeting people who need the vaccine most, while also offering jabs in libraries, community centres, leisure and sport facilities.

Work will also be done to ensure people who do not attend cervical screening appointments get sent reminders. Currently, a third of women do not take up their offer.

Pilot schemes, including allowing women to do cervical screening in their own homes, will also be expanded.

Ms Pritchard said it was “truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition”, adding that eliminating cervical cancer “would be an incredible achievement”.

She said: “As ever, the public can play their part by coming forward for their vaccines and screening appointments when invited - to achieve our goal of eliminating cervical cancer, we need as many people as possible to take up the offer, so please don’t delay, it could save your life.”

Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information Dr Julie Sharp said: “To ensure everyone has equal access to these life-saving programmes, there must be targeted action to increase HPV vaccination coverage and reduce barriers to cervical screening.

“This ambition will only be possible if the vaccination and screening programmes are backed by sufficient resources and modern IT infrastructure.”

It comes as leading cancer doctors called for a “fundamental reset” of cancer care in the UK in a bid to improve outcomes for those with the disease.

A policy review, published in The Lancet Oncology, said survival rates “remain unacceptably poor for many cancers” at a time when care “has become increasingly complex, specialised and expensive”.

Experts said the current crisis has “deep historic roots” and a “fundamental reset is required” to reverse the problem.

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