Two studies find cervical cancer could be eliminated within the century

One dose of the vaccine Gardasil, developed by Merck & Co., is displayed in Austin, Texas. (AP / Harry Cabluck, File)

Cervical cancer could be eliminated within 20 years in Canada and within a century worldwide, according to two international studies in which Quebec researchers have participated.

It would be a great victory for women's health.

The objectives, however, are conditional on 90 per cent vaccination for young girls against the human papilloma virus (HPV), good cervical cancer screening rates and access to adequate treatment.

The researchers' results, led by Professor Marc Brisson of the Faculty of Medicine at Université Laval and the CHU Research Centre at Québec-Université Laval, were published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet.

The team used projections based on mathematical models calculating the effect of the targets advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

More specifically, these predict that by 2030, 90 per cent of young girls will be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV), that 70 per cent of women will be subjected to 1 or 2 cervical cancer screening tests during their lifetime and that 90 per cent of women with precancerous lesions or cervical cancer will have access to adequate treatment.

In Canada, vaccination coverage is currently around 80 per cent and girls and boys are vaccinated in the 4th year of elementary school.

As immunization coverage is good in the country, and women also have easy access to screening tests, researchers predict that cervical cancer could be more easily eliminated here than in other countries. They estimate that in North America, the virtual disappearance of this disease could occur as early as 2040.

It is the first time that a study has estimated the number of cases of cervical cancer that could be prevented and the time when the disease could be eliminated if the WHO strategy is applied.

The incidence of cancer is projected to decrease by 97 per cent within a century, which would prevent 72 million cancer cases worldwide.

According to Melanie Drolet, co-author of the study, the WHO targets are realistic. The epidemiologist at the CHU Research Centre at Québec-Université Laval indicates that in countries where the HPV vaccine has been introduced, vaccination coverage rates of 90 per cent have been achieved. But sometimes it is access to screening tests and treatment that is not there.

She believes it will, therefore, require political and financial commitment from countries to achieve the targets.

This work was used to establish the WHO strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer which will be submitted for adoption to the World Health Assembly next May.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2020.