In Brief

Cervical cancer could be eliminated in England, experts say

NHS England hopes vaccination and HPV screening could end the disease

A combination of a vaccine and enhanced NHS screening could eliminate cervical cancer in England, according to scientists.

NHS England’s experts say the vaccine, given to girls from the age of 12, is very effective against HPV – the virus that causes most cases of the disease.

Last month, routine screening was reoriented to test primarily for the virus.

The Times says this is “the first time the health service has said that a form of cancer can be beaten to the extent that cases become extremely rare”.

Cervical cancer kills 850 women a year in the UK, where there are currently just below 80 cases per 100,000 women.

Australian academics have argued that comprehensive vaccination and screening could bring cases of the cancer down to fewer than four in 100,000 women, a level at which the disease would be considered virtually eliminated.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer, said: “Screening is one of the most effective ways of protecting against cervical cancer and there is no doubt this new way of testing will save lives.

“Combined with the success of the HPV vaccine for both boys and girls, we hope that cervical cancer can be eliminated altogether by the NHS in England.”

Robert Music, chief executive of the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust charity, also welcomed the “exciting” news.

He said: “Cervical screening is such an important test, but there are many reasons it can be difficult to attend. We must continue to understand and tackle these to ensure as many women benefit from this far more sensitive test and we save as many cancers diagnoses and lives as possible.”

Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, added: “This is a truly momentous achievement, but to ensure we consign this disease to the past we must keep vaccination rates high and continue to provide safe and acceptable screening for all women.”

It is common to see no symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer. When symptoms do occur, the most usual is “abnormal vaginal bleeding, which can occur during or after sex, in between periods, or new bleeding after you have been through menopause”, says the NHS.

Although abnormal bleeding is not always a sign of cervical cancer, patients with this symptom are advised to see their GP as soon as possible.

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