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Cervical cancer can be eliminated by 2040: UK health boss

Cervical cancer can be eliminated in England by 2040, saving thousands of women’s lives, the head of NHS England said last week, the first time any NHS leader, senior doctor or Health Minister has raised the possibility of banishing any form of cancer within a set time period.

Speaking at the NHS Providers conference in Liverpool, Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s chief executive, said a combination of HPV vaccination and screening for the disease means that elimination was a realistic ambition.

However, reports The Guardian, Pritchard made it clear that achieving that goal depends on schoolchildren and young adults getting vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes 99% of cervical cancers, and far more women than currently attend screening appointments doing do.

“To eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement and through a combination of our HPV vaccination programme and our highly effective cervical screening programme, it could become a reality in the next two decades,” she said.

Each year, about 3 200 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 850 die from it. It is the 14th most common cancer affecting women in Britain, with women aged 30 to 34 most likely to be diagnosed with it.

Advances in medical cancer, and especially the effectiveness of HPV vaccination, have helped persuade Pritchard that elimination by 2040 is feasible.

HPV jabs have revolutionised the outlook for the disease. When they began in 2008, they were offered to 12 and 13-year-old girls.

The NHS later began offering them to boys too, and also to young adults up to the age of 25.

Take-up, when jabs at school and through catch-up programmes are combined, means that by school-year 10 – when pupils are 14 or 15 – 86.5% of girls and 81.5% of boys across Britain have been immunised.

Studies suggest that the HPV roll-out has prevented about 450 cases of cervical cancer and 17 200 cases in which potentially dangerous gatherings of cells would have formed.

The NHS has also begun offering the vaccine as a single dose, instead of two doses, to make it easier and less time-consuming to get immunised.

Pritchard said the NHS will deploy several tactics to reach its goal: they include making vaccination even more convenient, for example by providing it in libraries, community centres and leisure facilities.

There will also be a renewed effort to persuade women who do not get screened to do so.

NHS bosses are concerned that one in three, the highest proportion ever, do not attend screening appointments. Potential discomfort during the procedure can act as a deterrent.

That one-third who do not attend constitute a “big risk” to elimination, NHS England said.

The health service plans to overhaul the NHS app to make it easier for patients to get vaccinated against a range of diseases as part of its vaccination strategy.

In 2020, all 194 members of the World Health Assembly, including the UK, resolved to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem but did not set a deadline for doing so.

Australia has vowed to become the first country in the world to do so, by 2035. Canada has pledged to do the same by 2040. In contrast, the EU’s plan says only that members will be expected to have eliminated the disease by the end of this century.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, said: “Combined with screening, HPV vaccination could reduce cervical cancer to the point where almost no one develops it.”

The WHO says that cervical cancer will have been eliminated if no more than four women per 100 000 of the female population develop it.

The Guardian article – NHS England boss to say cervical cancer can be eliminated by 2040 (Open access)

See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Better use of existing drugs boosts cervical cancer survival – UK study


Rwanda could become first country to eliminate cervical cancer


HPV vaccine cuts cervical cancer by nearly 90% — UK population registry study






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