Cervical cancer elimination

Cervical cancer, caused primarily by high-risk infection of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the fourth most prevalent cancer in women worldwide and claims a life every two minutes.

Women's cancer: two black women hugging each other

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix. The cervix is part of the female reproductive system and is located in the lower part of the womb, forming the opening from the womb to the vagina.[1] Cervical cancer is primarily caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and is particularly devastating in those living with HIV co-infection.

Cervical cancer is the 4th most commonly diagnosed cancers for women and one life is lost every two minutes to the disease.

In 2020, more than 340,000 women died from cervical cancer worldwide [6] and this number is likely to continue to grow, particularly in underprivileged and vulnerable communities.

Current data suggests that 90% of all cases and deaths due to cervical cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries, due largely to poor access to screening and early detection as well as to the treatment of both pre-cancers and cancer.[3]


diagram showing stage 1B cervical cancer Author: Cancer Research UK​ - CC BY-SA 4.0
Diagram showing stage 1B cervical cancer
Author: Cancer Research UK​ - CC BY-SA 4.0

What causes cervical cancer?

Most cervical cancers are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections. HPV is a group of viruses that are extremely common worldwide and are transmitted through sexual relations.

There are more than 100 types of HPV, of which at least 14 are cancer-causing (also known as high-risk types). Two HPV types (16 and 18) cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions. There is also evidence linking HPV with cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis and oropharynx.[4]

There are two main types of cancer of the cervix: squamous cell carcinomas (about 80-90% of cervical cancers) and adenocarcinomas (about 10-20% of cervical cancers).

Prevention, detection & treatment of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, thanks to vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is also one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, if it is detected and diagnosed early, and managed effectively. As with many cancers, the earlier cervical cancer is detected, the higher the chances are for survival.


HPV vaccines protect against the common cancer-causing types of human papilloma virus (HPV) and therefore significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer. 


Screening for HPV-infection in women aged 30-49, followed by an examination of the cervix for pre-cancers, ensures that the cancer is detected as early as possible and prevented from developing.   


Precancerous lesions: If screening detects pre-cancers, these can be treated by thermal ablation, cryotherapy or LLETZ, which is a therapeutic intervention to remove the tissue. 

Early stage cervical cancer: When detected and diagnosed early, cervical cancer is usually treated through surgery, with radiotherapy or a combination of both. 

Advanced cervical cancer:  When cervical cancer has developed further, radiotherapy with or without chemotherapy is often used to treat the cancer. In some cases, treatments can have lasting impact, including removal of the womb, premature menopause and infertility.

Palliating cervical cancer: When cervical cancer cannot be cured, there are ways to slow its progression, relieve pain, extend and improve quality of life. 

UICC podcast on cervical cancer

What are the causes of inequity? Why do so many women lack access to life-saving services due to where they live or other socioeconomic factors? How do we overcome these barriers? What role can innovation and technology play?

In this episode of Let’s talk cancer, Dr Chemtai Mungo from the University of North Carolina explains the challenges and advances in cervical cancer care and improving access to life-saving services for all populations.

What does "cervical cancer elimination" mean?

In 2020, the World Health Organization approved a strategy aimed at eliminating cervical cancer worldwide as a public health problem. The Global Strategy identifies the following threshold: cervical cancer would no longer be considered to be a public health problem when all countries reach an annual incidence rate of 4 cases per 100,000 women or less. This should happen within the lifetime of today’s young girls. [5]

The cervical cancer elimination initiative suggests a three-pillar approach:

No single intervention will be enough. The strategy requires accelerated action in prevention, screening and cancer management, to reach the following targets by 2030:  

  1. 90%  of girls fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by 15 years
  2. 70% of women are screened with a high-performance test by 35 and 45 years of age, pre-cancerous lesions are treated early
  3. 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment 
WHO's cervical cancer elimination strategy
WHO's cervical cancer elimination initiative
Cervical cancer elimination 2030 targets

WHO estimates that achieving and sustaining the 90:70:90 targets will avert 74 million new cases of cervical cancer and 62 million deaths in 78 low- and middle-income countries in the coming decades. 

Two articles published in The Lancet show that 62 million women's lives could be saved by 2120 if the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed measures for cervical cancer elimination are implemented.

The analysis in 78 low-income and lower-middle-income countries describes the mortality impact of achieving WHO cervical cancer elimination targets.

draying of 4 women

17 November marks the Cervical Cancer Elimination Day of Action and the anniversary of the launch of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.  

The Global Strategy and its related targets represent a unique opportunity to drive long-term, sustainable advocacy and save lives. 

SUCCESS Project in Guatemala 90-70-90

UICC works closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), other UN agencies and partners towards the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.

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infographic describing what cervical cancer is

This page regroups important resources such as infographics, videos, documents and links related to cervical cancer elimination. 

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Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control Bangladesh

The ICCP Portal features additional resources on cervical cancer prevention and control such as National Cervical Cancer Control Strategies and Plans. 

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Latest news and blog articles about cervical cancer

Crossroads of care: Improving Cancer and HIV outcomes through integrated health services

Close-up of a medical practitioner wearing blue surgical gloves preparing a woman's arm for an injection
Prof. Jeff Dunn AO
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Mobilising civil society for the elimination of cervical cancer: the opportunity of the single-dose HPV vaccine

Group of women from Bhutan in traditional dress smiling and laughing
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Understanding the access gap in cancer care

Black woman with blue sweater looking out into the distance
Matt Sause
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Podcast "Let's Talk Cancer": Cervical cancer – achieving equity through innovation

Two Black women embracing
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Expanding care for women’s cancers in low-resource settings

Black woman smiling, with child on her lap. Photo by Andrae Ricketts on Unsplash.
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Cervical cancer elimination in Africa: where are we now and where do we need to be?

Image from behind of women in Africa walking in a market, some carrying parcels on their heads
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People shaking hands at the World Cancer Congress 2022

Political will and a national strategy that prioritises targeted investments in cancer control as well as action at the international level can reduce the global cancer burden. 

© UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On 30 May 2017, health leaders from across the world reaffirmed cancer control as a critical health and development priority as they adopted the 2017 cancer resolution, entitled “Cancer prevention and control in the context of an integrated approach at the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. 

Woman looking at country profile at the 2016 World Cancer Congress

The World Cancer Declaration calls upon government leaders and policymakers to significantly reduce the global cancer burden, promote greater equity in the access to cancer services, and integrate cancer control into the global health and development agenda. 

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Femama Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer globally, ahead of lung cancer. While the incidence of breast cancer is generally higher in more developed regions, the number of cases is rising in low- and middle-income countries and they are often diagnosed later, leading to more serious outcomes.  

Last update

Friday 29 September 2023

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