Banishing Cervical Cancer

The year 2020 has been a difficult time for all of us around the globe. With Covid-19 spreading its terror and taking millions of lives across the globe, it has left people worrying for the future of healthcare. A ray of hope in this dark year has been the announcement of the eradication of Cervical cancer by the next 100 years. 

For those of you who are not aware of this disease, cervix cancer or cervical cancer is an uncontrolled tumour of the cervix (the lowermost part of the uterus), which makes it the fourth most common cancer found in women. On November 17, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) boosted a global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem from the face of the earth. Being a preventable form of cancer (if diagnosed at an early stage), cervical cancer is one cancer the world has the capability of actually demolishing entirely from the roots. 

Studies show that almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is spread through sexual contact. Most sexually active women have an 80% lifetime risk of contracting HPV that could potentially become the cause of cervical cancer. With years of research in the field, 2 doctors from the University of Cambridge made the first HPV vaccine in 2006, which was approved by the FDA. The HPV vaccine gained very promising results in the prevention of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine has the capability to prevent most cases of cervical cancer if given before a girl or woman is exposed to the virus. Apart from Cervical Cancer, the vaccine has the capability to prevent vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, and can also prevent genital warts and anal cancer in women and men. Widespread immunization with the HPV vaccine could reduce the impact of cervical cancer worldwide.

According to WHO, all countries must reach and maintain an incidence rate of below four per 100 000 women to eliminate cervical cancer entirely. In order to achieve this goal a strategic action is required, and WHO did that exactly in its global strategy, looking at a world where cervical cancer is permanently gone as a public health problem.

WHO's strategy of elimination depends on three main pillars:

  • Prevention through vaccination.
  • Screening and treatment of precancerous .
  • Treatment and care for invasive cervical cancer.

The three pillars will only work if they are implemented collectively with the ultimate goal of elimination. HPV vaccination provides a long-term protection against cervical cancer. Screening and treatment of precancerous lesions can prevent pre-cancer from developing into full grown cancer.  For those who are identified with invasive cancer, timely care and treatment saves lives, while palliative care can greatly reduce the pain and misery.

It is now the time to spearhead the elimination of cervical cancer as a global health problem. As the citizens of the world, it is our collective responsibility to bring it to realisation: policy makers, healthcare providers, civil society, the research community, and the private sector all have important roles to play in this. 

The time to act is ‘NOW’.