According to a presentation at the ECCO/ESMO Congress in Berlin at the end of September, cervical cancer could be eradicated in the next 50 years if human papilloma virus (HPV) screening and vaccination programs are actively implemented.

Professor Jack Cuzick, a cervical cancer screening expert, explained that if vaccination were to be combined with HPV screening, then eventually the cancer would disappear in those countries that had successfully implemented national programs.

“It’s important to say up front that the HPV is responsible for all cervix cancer,” Prof Cuzick told meeting attendees. “If you can eradicate the virus, the cancer will not appear. So the current vaccine holds the promise of eradicating about 70% to 75% of cervical cancers, and there appears to be some additional cross protection amongst types that are closely related to HPV types 16 or 18, in particular 31, 45, and a little bit of 33.”

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Although Prof Cuzick noted that the current HPV vaccines protect against 2 cancer-causing strains of the HPV virus, soon there would be vaccines available that protect against 9 types.

Prof Cuzick believes that errors associated with the use of the Pap test will increase as the proportions of smears with affected cells decline due to increasing numbers of women having been vaccinated. “There’s overwhelming evidence that HPV screening is more effective than the Pap smear test, which misses about a third to a half of all high grade lesions,” Cuzick stated.

“For younger women we think HPV testing should happen every 5 years starting at age 25-30; by the time they’re 50, if they’ve been negative they could possible be screened every 8 years. So there’s a lot to be gained both in terms of better protection and less frequent screening, which will save time and money. If women can go less often and get more protection it makes a lot of sense,” said Cuzick.