Science & Technology

The Elimination of Cervical Cancer by 2050 – reality or blissful thinking?

Professor Margaret Stanley
30th October 2018, 7:00pm

Every two minutes somewhere in the world a woman dies of cervical cancer – a preventable disease. Cervical cancer is caused by infection with a virus called the human papillomavirus, or HPV. It is a cancer with detectable and treatable precancerous states and therefore one which can be effectively prevented as a public health problem by vaccination and screening. Highly safe and effective vaccines that can prevent the majority of HPV infections that cause cervical and other HPV-associated cancers are available and are being implemented in many, mainly high income (HIC) countries, and we know that they are hugely effective. Tests for screening and detection and methods to treat cervical precancerous lesions have been in place for decades in HIC and are proven to reduce cervical cancer incidence. Combining high coverage of HPV vaccinations for adolescents and high coverage of cervical screenings, with appropriate treatment of all women, could eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem in local populations within our lifetime. Thus in the UK, if the current coverage for HPV vaccination and screening is maintained, cervical cancer could be virtually eliminated by 2050. But to achieve this globally, these primary and secondary interventions for prevention will need to be expanded, to include those not currently vaccinated or screened and this means women in low and middle income countries (LMIC). These are big challenges. Broad dissemination of HPV vaccines has been achieved in a few low and middle resource countries, but needs to be scaled up globally, to reach the majority of age-eligible individuals. Strengthening cervical cancer screening strategies in LMIC has proved hugely difficult in the past 2-3 decades. The problems are not insuperable but do require international collaboration, innovative use of technologies and a collective will. Allowing women to rot to death from a preventable cancer should not be tolerated in the 21st century.


About the Speaker

Margaret Stanley is Emeritus Professor of Epithelial Biology, Director of Research in the Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Honorary Consultant Addenbrookes Hospital Cambridge and Honorary Fellow of Christ's College. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Honorary Fellow of the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. She has a lifetime award from the American Society for Colposcopy and Cytopathology (ASCCP) and from the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS). She was a member of the UK Biology and Biotechnology Science Research Council and a member of the Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee that advised the UK government on prion diseases. In 2004, she was awarded the OBE for services to Virology. She was a member of the WHO Expert Group 2013. In addition, she acts as the invited HPV expert for the HPV subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation in the UK. She is the incoming President of the International Papillomavirus Society.

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