World Health Organization’s cervical cancer elimination plan
Reviewed by our clinical team
In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released information about one of their latest global strategies, which is focused on reducing global rates of cervical cancer.
The Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer has been adopted by the 194 countries as part of the World Health Assembly. All countries involved are aiming to meet the following goals by 2030:
- 90% of girls will be fully vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) by the age of 15
- 70% of women will have been screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35 (and again by the age of 45)
- 90% of women who have pre-cancer or invasive cancer of the cervix will have received treatment
This strategy is driven by the fact that cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease – not only is it curable when detected early enough, it can also be prevented with the HPV vaccine. It’s also driven by the fact that the majority of cervical cancer deaths occur in low or lower-middle-income countries.
If the above goals are met, it’s expected that in low and lower-middle-income countries, the median incidence rate of cervical cancer will fall by 42% by 2045 and by 97% by 2120. An estimated 300,000 deaths from cervical cancer should be avoided by 2030.
To learn more about the WHO cervical cancer elimination strategy, visit the WHO website and download the PDF.
What to know about cervical cancer
- Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally.
- It’s most common in sexually active women in their 30s and 40s.
- Almost all cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during sex.
- There are over 100 types of HPV but only a few high-risk strains (including 16 and 18) cause cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms in its early stages, however abnormal bleeding (e.g. between periods) can be a sign.
- Getting a smear test every three to five years is the best way to stay protected. You’ll be notified about your next screening by a letter in the post.
- A cervical cancer screening (smear test or pap test) checks for high-risk types of HPV. If these are found, more tests and treatment will follow.
- If caught early, cervical cancer can be treated successfully with surgery.
- For school-age girls, an HPV vaccine is given on the NHS.
What happens at a cervical screening?
If you’ve never had a cervical screening before you might feel nervous about it. The truth is, while it can be a bit uncomfortable, the process is usually really quick and simple. An experienced doctor or nurse will carry out the test, and will make sure you feel as comfortable as possible during the process.
At your cervical screening appointment, you’ll need to undress from the waist down and lie down on a bed with a sheet to cover your legs. The doctor or nurse will ask you to bend your legs and part your knees so they can insert a speculum and a small brush into your vagina.
The speculum is a tool that allows the nurse to see your cervix (neck of the womb). The brush is used to gently remove a few cells from your cervix. Once this is done the nurse will remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed. In total the appointment shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes.
Getting your results
A cervical screening looks for high-risk types of HPV in the sample of cells taken from your cervix. If these high-risk types are found, you may need to go back for another test called a colposcopy.
If no high-risk types of HPV are found, you won’t need to do anything else. Just make sure you attend your next screening in three to five years.
Can I get the cervical cancer vaccine?
The cervical cancer vaccine is a vaccine for HPV. It’s given to girls (and boys) aged 12 and 13 when they’re in school, as part of the routine NHS vaccination programme.
Other people who can have the HPV vaccine for free include:
- Men and women aged 25 or under who were eligible for the school vaccine but missed the opportunity
- Men who have sex with other men
- Trans men and women
The HPV vaccine is given to men as well as women because it helps to prevent health issues like cancer of the anus, penis and throat, and genital warts.
If you’re not eligible for a free vaccine on the NHS, you can get yours privately through a service like Online Doctor. Our HPV vaccine is Gardasil 9. It’s given as three injections over the space of four to 12 months. You can order yours through our online HPV clinic and go into your nearest LloydsPharmacy to receive your injections.