Cervical cancer elimination

 

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, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and particularly devastating in those living with HIV co-infection, is a growing public health concern.

Cervical cancer ranks 4th of all cancers and currently, one life is lost every 2 minutes to this disease. Importantly, it is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in 42 countries.[2]

In 2020, the global mortality statistics increased to over 340 000 women and these are likely to continue to grow, particularly in underprivileged and vulnerable communities. Current data suggests that 90% of all cases occur in low- and middle-income countries, due largely to poor access to screening and early detection and treatment of both pre-cancers and cancer. [3]

 

Diagram_showing_stage_1B_cervical_cancer_CRUK_203.svg_.png

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. 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]

 

Prevention, detection & treatment

Can Cervical cancer be prevented?

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and successfully treatable forms of cancer, if it is detected and diagnosed early and managed effectively:

  1. Vaccinations: HPV vaccines protect against the common cancer-causing types of human papilloma virus and can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer. 
  2. Screening: Testing for HPV-infection in women aged 30-49 followed by the examination of the cervix for pre-cancers permits local treatment and is a second opportunity to prevent cervical cancer.  

 

Cervical cancer is often curable if detected early

Like many cancers, the earlier cervical cancer is detected, the higher the chances are of survival. For example, in the US, the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with cervical cancer at an advanced stage is 15%, compared with 93% if diagnosed when the cancer has not spread*. This holds true in lower income settings as well. In India, a study among rural women with cervical cancer found the five-year survival rate to be 9% when diagnosed at Stage IV, which soars to 78% when diagnosed earlier at Stage I.

 

Cervical cancer treatment

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 and extend and improve quality of life. 

Source:  National Health Service: Cervical Cancer Treatment

 

 

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.

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

What does "elimination" mean?

In 2020, the World Health Organization approved a strategy aimed at eliminating cervical cancer worldwide within generations. 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 elimination initiative suggests a three-pillar approach:

No one intervention alone will be enough. The strategy requires accelerated action in prevention, screening and cancer management.  

  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 
Three part approach of the global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer

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. 

 

UICC's action on Cervical cancer
Cervical cancer resources
News and blogs
Black woman smiling, with child on her lap. Photo by Andrae Ricketts on Unsplash.
14 June 2022
News

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

Partnerships and integrated approaches leveraging existing infrastructure can help expand services for women's cancers and improve prevention and care.

Image from behind of women in Africa walking in a market, some carrying parcels on their heads
6 April 2022
News

Cervical cancer elimination in Africa: where are we now and where do we need to be?

A new UICC report provides insights into the current situation of the cervical cancer burden in Africa, as well as recommendations to improve access to care and meet the cervical cancer elimination targets set by WHO.

Vector image of three Black women
17 March 2022
News

Snuff on the rise among Zambian women, increasing risks for cervical cancer

Insunko is a powdered form of tobacco sold in Zambia that an increasing number of women believe enhances male sexual pleasure. Such a use heightens the risk of cervical cancer.

Women holding up large numbers 90, 70, 90
10 March 2022
Blog

Expanding HPV testing is essential for cervical cancer elimination goals

Tracey Shissler at Jhpiego reflects on the initial challenges and accomplishments of the SUCCESS project to improve screening of cervical cancer in lower-resourced settings.

Woman receiving a vaccine shot
3 March 2022
Blog

Improving access to HPV vaccine and screening in LMICs

Marking International HPV Awareness Day on 4 March, UICC Young Leader Chemtai Mungo calls attention to current efforts to prevent and treat diseases caused by HPV, in particular cervical cancer, including improving access to HPV vaccines and new technologies for early detection.

Princess Dina Mired, UICC President (2018-2020) with cancer advocates and Dr Tedros, DG of WHO, and H.E. Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya, at Walk the Talk, Geneva, 2019. Photo by Thomas Omondi.
18 January 2022
News

The moonshot of eliminating cervical cancer is within reach

For the first time in history, an end is in sight – but vaccines for the HPV virus play a critical role. Opinion article by UICC's Immediate Past President, HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, in The Telegraph.

Last update: 
Monday 8 August 2022
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