The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month by highlighting the work that remains to be done for the world to eliminate this disease by the end of this century, and by promoting the tools that are available to achieve this goal.
The main cause of cervical cancer is persistent infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely common family of viruses that are transmitted through sexual contact. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. However, in 2020, an estimated 604 000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 342 000 women died from the disease; most of these cases and deaths (~90% for both) occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
Countries have only 7 years left, until 2030, to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) targets that will help make cervical cancer elimination a reality within this ambitious timeframe. Recent research by scientists from IARC and partner institutions suggests that these targets will be missed unless countries scale up screening programmes, improve coverage of HPV vaccination, and expand access to affordable treatment.
To eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem by 2100, all countries must reach and maintain an incidence rate of fewer than 4 new cases of cervical cancer per 100 000 women per year. Achieving that goal rests on three key pillars and their corresponding targets:
- Vaccination: 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15 years;
- Screening: 70% of women screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35 years, and again by the age of 45 years;
- Treatment: 90% of women with precancer treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer managed.
Each country should meet the 90–70–90 targets by 2030 to get on the path towards eliminating cervical cancer by the end of this century.
IARC scientists are conducting research that is advancing these three areas, such as studying the immune response to different numbers of doses of HPV vaccine. Thanks to these evaluations, it is now known that a single dose of vaccine offers adequate protection to neutralize the virus and that immunogenicity of a single dose remains high even 10 years after vaccination. Largely on the basis of these results and related IARC research, WHO recently recommended supporting a single-dose schedule for HPV vaccination.
Researchers at IARC and their collaborators are also evaluating the feasibility and effectiveness of various methods for cervical cancer screening. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention Volume 18: Cervical Cancer Screening was published in May 2022. A recent IARC study reported on the performance of visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA), a low-cost screening method, as well as the ability of VIA providers to assess eligibility for ablative treatment.
Recent related IARC research
The global cervical cancer burden in 2020 and recent trends in incidence: a baseline assessment for monitoring the WHO Global Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative: More efforts are needed to reach the WHO 2030 elimination targets
- Performance of visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) for triage of HPV screen-positive women: results from the ESTAMPA study