Cervical cancer is a preventable disease so, although research advances are increasing treatment opportunities for all women diagnosed at any stage, we must stop it before it hits.
In December 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its recommendations for the HPV vaccination presenting an off-label single–dose schedule as an alternative preventative option to a two-dose schedule for girls and boys aged 9-20 years. The WHO’s new position paper has come in response to a significant drop in HPV vaccination coverage reported globally since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and highlights the need to increase our public health efforts.
Prophylactic HPV vaccination has proven to be a cost-effective way to prevent cervical cancer as well as other HPV-related cancers, including anus and oropharyngeal malignancies. The use of a single-dose vaccine may facilitate the completion of prevention programmes for many children and adolescents while offering comparable efficacy and duration of protection to the two-dose schedule (Vaccine.2020;38;6:1302-1314). One key determinant of vaccination uptake is, in fact, the accessibility to immunisation services offered by healthcare systems rather than a resistance to these types of vaccines in the healthy population. Many girls still miss out on their opportunity to get protected against HPV infection every year due to a lack of vaccination programmes at a local level, especially in low- and middle-income countries, where the large majority of cervical cancer cases occur.
Prevention is critical for the future of cancer care. By 2040, the number of new cancer cases in Europe will exceed 5 million, so tackling now those malignancies that are preventable – almost 40% of all cancers - by promoting healthy lifestyles, limiting exposure to carcinogenic agents and raising awareness about the importance of screening and vaccination will help reduce the cancer burden in the long term.
As medical oncologists, we deal with our patients when a cancer has already been diagnosed; however, we can still play a role in prevention. Giving lectures to medical students or trainees, talking about healthy habits with our patients’ families and caregivers, and simply acting as role models can all contribute to spreading prevention messages to wider audiences. Following this direction, ESMO has recently undertaken a number of activities to better educate oncology professionals about cancer prevention, including the Europe-wide “Cancer Prevention Across Europe” campaign (PrEvCan), in partnership with the European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS) and more than 50 other international and national organisations.
Cervical cancer is a preventable disease so, although research advances are increasing treatment opportunities for all women diagnosed at any stage, we must stop it before it hits. It has been calculated that the implementation of primary health measures such as HPV vaccination, screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions in line with the 2020 WHO Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer as a Public Health Problem would reduce the cervical cancer incidence rate by 42% by 2045, and by 97% by 2120, averting more than 74 million new cases. In the future, the achievement of WHO’s ambitious targets will be a mirror of our collaborative efforts: if the number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer remains stable in a few years from now, this will be seen as a failure of the global oncology community to address this cancer type.
ESMO, as the leading professional organisation for medical oncology representing more than 28,000 oncology professionals from over 160 countries worldwide, is supportive of the efforts of the European Commission to extend routine vaccination of girls and boys against Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) and help ensure access to vaccination against the Hepatitis B virus (HBV).