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Women's Health Q1 2022

The HPV vaccine and screening are our best tools for eliminating cervical cancer

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Dr Nino Berdzuli

Director of Country Health Programmes, WHO Europe

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally but, it can be prevented with the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screenings.


Laura Brennan did not get the HPV vaccine and her words were recorded in March 2019, shortly before she passed away, “This vaccine is safe and effective and along with cervical screening, it’s the best tool that we have to help us move towards eradicating cervical cancer.” Laura’s dying wish was that no other women would suffer the same fate as her.

Preventing cervical cancer

Early vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) can prevent cervical cancer. The ideal age for the vaccination is around the age of 9 – 14 years.

In the UK, 800 out of 100,000 women are projected to develop cervical cancer in their lifetime. HPV is sexually transmitted and is the main cause of this type of cancer which develops as a tumor in the cervix. In more than 90% of cases the infections clear up however, in a small proportion of women the virus causes some cervical cells to become malignant.

In 2021, the UK reported disruption of 26-50% in cancer screenings due to the pandemic.

Cervical cancer screenings

Screening of cervical precancerous lesions is the second-line strategy, designed to detect women at risk of developing cancer. Women who test positive should be treated to avoid progression into cervical cancer.

In 2021, the UK reported disruption of 26-50% in cancer screenings due to the pandemic. Acknowledging the ongoing challenges caused by COVID-19, it is important that cancer screening services for women can rapidly resume to ensure continuity of screening for those who need it and to build trust among service users. Proactive strategies are needed so the public understands that that the services are safe in the context of the pandemic.

Generally, cervical cancer progresses at a relatively slow rate, taking it up to 15-20 years to develop. Therefore, being screened once or twice in a lifetime could save your life.

Raising global awareness

In 2020, around 3,800 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK and of those, 1,121 women passed away due to this disease. In all of our activities, we invoke Laura’s spirit to help women in reducing these numbers. In 2020, WHO launched the global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem by 2120, a plan that was approved by all member states. In 2021, WHO/Europe’s initiated ‘United Action Against Cancer’, a pan-European cancer movement to eliminate cancer as a life-threatening disease.

We urge girls and women to be informed and to follow the recommendations issued by the UK on HPV vaccination and cervical screening. This knowledge can save your life.

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