The elimination of cervical cancer is “in our sights”, a charity has said – but it warned there is still a “mountain to climb” before the disease can be eradicated.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said that the success of the HPV vaccination campaign has meant that deaths among younger women could be almost a thing of the past in just 20 years time as case rates plummet.
But it warned that there was no time for complacency in cervical screening as a new model suggests that deaths and cases could soar among women too old to get the jab as part of the programme.
New estimates from experts at King’s College London suggest that cervical cancer rates and deaths could rise significantly among older women over the next two decades.
The model is focused on England where there are currently just over 2,600 cases per year and 700 deaths.
It estimates that in 2041-2045 the rate of cervical cancer cases among those age 60 and over will rise from 10.1 cases for every 100,000 women to 17.2 cases per 100,000.
Deaths are also set to double among 60 to 64-year-olds increasing from 3.0 to 7.4 per 100,000 population and from 4.1 to 9.6 for 65 to 70-year-olds.
Increasing numbers in this group could also face later stage diagnosis, according to the model.
The charity said the model also demonstrates the importance of maintaining high coverage of the HPV vaccine – which helps prevent cancers caused by the human papillomavirus.
Experts said if uptake rates decline from the current coverage of 86%, for example to 70%, then by 2041-45 cancer rates in 25-29 year olds could double.
A more effective vaccination preventing against even more HPV strains is to replace the current vaccine in during 2021/22, Jo’s said.
As a result, rate of new diagnoses among those aged 25-29 will fall from 17.1 to just 5.0 per 100,000 women in 2041-45, estimates suggest.
Deaths “will almost be removed” among the age group, the charity added.
The rate of deaths among 25 to 29 year olds is expected to be 0.3 to 0.4 per 100,000 deaths in 2041-45, according to the model.
Samantha Dixon, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “It is so exciting to have eliminating a cancer within our sights.
“We have the tools to do so with vaccination and screening, but we have a mountain to climb on the way there.
“Now is not the time for complacency. We urge governments to put cervical cancer elimination in their strategies and to invest in the resources and technology to reduce inequalities and ensure we are providing the most effective programmes possible.”
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, added: “It is so positive to see such a huge impact from the HPV vaccination programme in England, with a recent study showing that since it started cervical cancer rates in women have dropped significantly.
“What we must not forget however is that there are many women and people out there who didn’t receive the vaccine. It’s crucial that while the HPV vaccination programme is making huge leaps to eradicate cervical cancer, the UK Government continues to invest in cervical screening and promote its importance.”
It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlighted that globally 13% of girls aged nine to 14 years old were vaccinated against HPV in 2020.
The global health body said that around 80 countries are yet to introduce this lifesaving vaccine.
It called for action to eliminate the “almost completely preventable” cancers.
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