The NHS has pledged to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 for the first time ever, which could save thousands of lives every year in England.
Speaking at NHS Providers’ annual conference, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard outlined how the health service can achieve the goal for elimination by making it as easy as possible for people to get the lifesaving Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and increasing cervical screening uptake.
England is among the first countries in the world to set this elimination ambition within the next two decades.
As part of new plans to put the NHS one step closer to eliminating the HPV virus, which causes up to 99% of cervical cancers, health and care professionals will be supported to identify those who most need the vaccine, through targeted outreach and offering jabs in more convenient settings.
To eliminate cervical cancer by 2040, the NHS needs to ensure as many people as possible are being vaccinated against HPV, while also coming forward for cervical screening.
NHS screening helps prevent cervical cancer by using a highly effective test to check for high-risk HPV which may cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix. These abnormal cells can, over time, turn into cancer if left untreated.
Alongside its vaccination drive, the NHS is inviting more people than ever before for cervical screening – over five million people aged 25 to 64 were invited last year, with 3.5 million tested – while self-sampling will be trialled to determine if it could be introduced as part of national screening.
The World Health Organisation considers cervical cancer to be eliminated as a public health problem when there is an incidence rate lower than four per 100,000 women.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England said: “It is truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition today – to eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement and through a combination of our HPV vaccination programme, and our highly-effective cervical screening programme, it could become a reality in in the next two decades.
“Vaccination and screening are the key tools which mean we are one step closer to achieving this and the NHS is already making it easier than ever before for people to protect themselves and their families – whether it’s through community outreach in areas of lower uptake or expanding the NHS app so that everyone has their vaccine history and booking options in the palm of their hand.”
Also essential to the elimination of cervical cancer, is women coming forward for their routine cervical screening appointments. Currently a third of women invited do not take up the offer.
Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year, but the NHS screening programme helps save around 5,000 lives each year.