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Women's Healthcare Q3 2023

Cervical cancer prevention in the UK — what are the tools we need?

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Samantha Dixon

CEO, Jo’s Cervical Trust 

The UK has the tools to help make cervical cancer a thing of the past; we need government action to get us there as soon as possible.

Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and two women lose their lives. At Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, we know that the impact of cervical cancer can be significant — physically, emotionally and financially — and can last well beyond diagnosis and treatment. However, the UK has the tools to end this disease.  

Tools for cervical cancer prevention 

Almost all (99.7%) of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), making this cancer largely preventable through a combination of HPV vaccination and cervical screening (also known as smear tests).   

Cervical screening prevents more than 70% of cervical cancers and, by testing for HPV, it’s possible to stop cancer before it even starts. The HPV vaccine was rolled out in schools in 2008. Research has already shown how effective it can be, with cases of cervical cancer falling by 87% among vaccinated women — effectively eliminating the disease in women born since 1995.   

Almost one in three women are not attending
their cervical screening when invited.

Elimination strategies 

Around the world, governments are taking up the call from the World Health Organization to increase vaccination and screening coverage, developing their own strategies and committing to the elimination of cervical cancer. 

The UK is fortunate to have fantastic and free prevention programmes, but we’re seeing a decline in cervical screening uptake and real inequalities in HPV vaccine coverage. Recent data from NHS England shows that almost one in three women are not attending their cervical screening when invited — and, worryingly, one in two in some areas.  

Screening levels also have been steadily declining for the last 20 years. Take up of the HPV vaccine was heavily impacted by Covid-19, and children living in high levels of deprivation are still less likely to receive it.  

Ending cervical cancer together 

At Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, we are determined to secure a future that is free from cervical cancer by ensuring that cervical screening and the HPV vaccine are made as accessible as possible. However, we need to see government strategies with clear targets and timelines. There must also be continued investment in research and innovations for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. 

Cervical screening isn’t easy for everyone, and we want to ensure that everybody has the information and support they need. Our Helpline, Forum, information pages and support services are available to anyone that needs them.   

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