There are 510 000 cases of cervical cancer and 288 000 related deaths each year (WHO, January 2009).
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women between 15 and 44 years of age in Europe.
Unlike other cancers cervical cancer is caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is very common and is easily passed on from one person to another.
There are about 100 types of the human papillomavirus.
Certain types of this virus are able to transform normal cervical cells into abnormal ones which can go on to form cervical cancer. These types also affect the vulva, vagina and penis and in few cases go on to form cancers of the vagina and vulva. Different types cause genital warts - a more noticeable sign of having picked up the virus.
It´s estimated that 70% of women and men will come into contact with it during their life.
Fortunately 80 to 90% of cases the human papillomavirus will be naturally eliminated.
Yet, 1 woman dies every 1/2 hour of cervical cancer in Europe.
Cervical cancer can be prevented: together by vaccination and by screening.
Being vaccinated before exposure to the virus helps protect women against cervical cancer and the precancerous lesions that precede it.
Vaccination is the first line of defence, the second is screening, also called pap smear.
Cervical cancer is detected by regular screening and treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing in around 75% of cases.
Together vaccination and screening can save more lives and suffering.
Barriers to screening and to HPV vaccination are the same and linked to lack of information: unawareness of the disease, of the virus and its link to cervical cancer - is the first reason.
82% of the women questionned by WACC's Voice of Women Survey (Intermediary results, May 2009) said there was an absolute need for more information on cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and its prevention.
Background, for more information
The cervix is the lower end of the uterus which connects to the vagina. It is a very fragile area of the body that undergoes changes at various times in a woman's life - puberty, labour, menopause.
Diagram of the cervix
The virus: cervical cancer is always caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus. The human papillomavirus is very common. It is easily passed on by from one person to another
- Certain types of this virus are able to transform normal cervical cells into abnormal ones. In a small number of cases and usually over a long period of time (from several years to several decades), some of these abnormal cells may then develop into cervical cancer.
- Every woman who becomes infected with the human papillomavirus could be at risk of cancer developing.
- While the majority of those infected with the virus won't develop cancer (fortunately 80 to 90% of cases the human papillomavirus is naturally eliminated).
- The human papillomavirus is contagious, passed on by genital contact - not necessarily sexual intercourse, with someone carrying the human papillomavirus, and could lead to infection.
Prevention & detection: Cervical cancer is detected by regular screening also called smear test.
The first stage of cervical screening is taking a sample of cells from the cervix with a small disposable spatula. This stage will check the health of the cervix and to detect early changes in the cervical cells, which may develop into cancer in the future.
If abnormal cells are diagnosed by smear test, some additional exams will be prescribed in order to adapt the treatment.
Regular cervical screening is the best way to detect changes to the cells of the cervix. Early detection and treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing in around 75% of cases.
HPV vaccination and screening are complementary in preventing cervical cancer
While vaccines targets HPV types that cause about 70% of all cervical cancer in Europe it cannot prevent all cervical cancer. At the same time screening does not prevent disease but detects pre-cancerous cervical lesions which need follow-up or have to be removed through surgery; detection may be incomplete.
Together vaccination and screening save more lives of women from cervical cancer, and HPV vaccination can also reduce suffering, distressing uncertainty about the progression of precancerous lesions to cancer and the need for medical follow-up and surgery.
Recent data, from different sources, even suggested that information about HPV vaccination does not only increase the awareness of the HPV virus being the cause of cervical cancer but also increase the compliance with screening for early detection.