CERVICAL cancer could be wiped out in three decades, saving thousands of lives, experts said today.
The HPV jab and smear tests could help eradicate the killer cancer in high-income nations in as little as 35 years.
And their study predicts the disease will be eliminated on a global scale by the end of the century – saving up to 13 million lives.
But, that goal can only be realised if enough women are screened for the human papillomavirus (HPV) – and vaccinated against the virus.
Without a big push to get more women tested and vaccinated the world could see cases soar in the next 50 years, the Australian scientists warned.
The HPV virus is the main cause of cervical cancer – it’s responsible for around 90 per cent of cases and is transmitted by sex and intimate skin-on-skin contact.
Each year there are 3,126 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK and 854 women die from the disease.
But in high-income countries rates of the disease are starting to slow, thanks to the HPV vaccination and screening.
Today an estimated 99.8 per cent of cases in the UK are considered to be preventable.
In May last year the World Health Organisation called for co-ordinated action to eliminate cervical cancer.
Professor Karen Canfell, from the Cancer Council New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, who led the new study published in The Lancet Oncology journal, said: “Despite the enormity of the problem, our findings suggest that global elimination is within reach with tools that are already available, provided that both high coverage of HPV vaccination and cervical screening can be achieved.”
Currently a big gap exists between richer and poorer countries when it comes to cervical cancer prevention.
Signs of cervical cancer you need to know
“Not all women diagnosed with cervical cancer have symptoms, which is why it’s really important to attend cervical screening (smear tests) when invited. But, whatever your age, it’s equally important to be aware of cervical cancer symptoms,” Imogen Pinnell, health information manager at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust tells The Sun.
Early symptoms can include:
1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)period
The most common and earliest sign of cervical cancer tends to be irregular bleeding.
It happens when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.
It’s an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods. There’s no age limit to developing cervical cancer.
2. Unusual vaginal discharge
Everyone’s discharge is different, so it’s a case of knowing what is normal for you.
If you find that the colour, smell and consistency has changed, then that’s something you really need to have checked out.
When cancer lacks oxygen, it can cause an infection which leads to strange smelling discharge.
3. Discomfort or pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a sign of a number of different issues, but one is cervical cancer.
Because the disease often comes with no symptoms, pain during intercourse is one of the key indicators. It can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.
4. Lower back pain
It could be down to you straining something in the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something’s wrong with your reproductive organs.
Persistent pain – just one off twinges – in the lower back, pelvis or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.
5. Unintended weight loss
While effortless weight loss might sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it’s never a good sign if it happens seemingly without cause.
A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss tend to be signs that the body isn’t working properly – it’s trying to conserve energy. If you notice that you’re not eating as you normally do, go to your GP.
In 2008 average screening rates were 63 per cent in high income regions but as low as 19 per cent in low and middle-income countries.
The study showed that boosting global vaccination coverage to 80 per cent to 100 per cent by 2020 and twice lifetime screening rates to 70 per cent could result in cervical cancer being eliminated in the richest countries by 2055-59.
At that point fewer than four in 100,000 women per year would be developing the disease.
Poorer countries would take longer to eliminate cervical cancer under this scenario, in some cases having to wait until beyond the end of the century.
We now have the technological tools, an effective vaccine and a highly sensitive screening test, to eliminate both cervical cancer and the virus that causes it
Mark Jit, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
However African countries were not expected to banish the disease by 2100 even with high levels of vaccination and twice lifetime cervical screening.
Currently an estimated 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year worldwide, making it the fourth most common cancer in women.
Around 85 per cent of these cases occur in less developed regions.
Rapid scale-up of HPV vaccination and screening could prevent up to 13 million cases of cervical cancer around the world by 2050, said the study authors.
Without enhanced prevention, the researchers predicted that 44.4 million women globally would be diagnosed with cervical cancer in the next 50 years, rising from 600,000 in 2020 to 1.3 million in 2069.
Commenting on the findings, Mark Jit, professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “We now have the technological tools, an effective vaccine and a highly sensitive screening test, to eliminate both cervical cancer and the virus that causes it.
MORE ON CERVICAL CANCER
“However, uptake of these life-saving interventions has been poor in low and middle-income countries, despite the majority of cervical cancer deaths occurring in these countries.
“Making a significant dent in these deaths will require concerted global effort, and include engaging with populations and bringing vaccines and screening programmes into communities that have never seen them before.”
To carry out the study the scientists analysed high quality data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer to predict future trends under a “business-as-usual” scenario.
They then carried out a computer simulation to calculate the impact of scaling up HPV vaccination and screening in 181 countries between 2020 and the end of the century.