At the recent NHS Providers’ annual conference, the NHS has pledged to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040, which could save thousands of lives each year.
England is among the first countries in the world to set this elimination ambition within the next two decades.
It aims to do this by making it as easy as possible for people to get the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and by driving an increase in cervical screening uptake.
The elimination of the HPV virus is key to the ambitious plans as it causes up to 99 per cent of cervical cancers, so health and care professionals will be supported to identify those who most need the vaccine through targeted outreach and offering vaccinations in more convenient settings such as libraries, community centres and local leisure or sport facilities.
Already, the NHS has put in place plans to boost vaccine uptake, and the HPV vaccine will be included in the near future. These measures include improvements in access to online vaccination appointments, patient access to their full vaccination record and the ability to book vaccines on the NHS App over the coming months and years.
The HPV vaccine is given to both girls and boys in secondary school to protect them against catching the HPV infection and it developing into pre-cancerous and cancer cells. In addition, cervical screening is offered to women aged 25 to 49 every three and 50 to 64 every five years. High take up of both is essential to meet the goal to eliminate cervical cancer.
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 – 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.
“As ever, the public can play their part by coming forward for their vaccines and screening appointments when invited – to achieve our goal of eliminating cervical cancer, we need as many people as possible to take up the offer, so please don’t delay – it could save your life.”
One dose of the HPV vaccine is now being offered to those in year 8 (aged 12 or 13 years) via the school aged immunisation service. Children are also able to get their vaccine either in school or at a community clinic.
Anyone eligible who hasn’t received their one dose HPV vaccine can catch up until their 25th birthday via their GP practice.
Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said:“It’s tremendous news that we are on track to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 in this country. But alongside the success of the HPV vaccine for both boys and girls, regular cervical screenings for women are still essential to stop the development of cancerous cells in their tracks.
“A third of women do not take up the offer of cervical screening when invited, which is still a big risk for our plans. Cervical cancer often causes no symptoms during the early stages of the disease, so it is especially important that people attend their tests when in invited by the NHS and that those who are eligible get vaccinated against HPV.”
Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, Dr Julie Sharp, said: “We support NHS England’s target and pledge to save even more lives from cervical cancer. Combined with screening, HPV vaccination could reduce cervical cancer to the point where almost no one develops it.
“To ensure everyone has equal access to these life-saving programmes, there must be targeted action to increase HPV vaccination coverage and reduce barriers to cervical screening. This ambition will only be possible if the vaccination and screening programmes are backed by sufficient resource and modern IT infrastructure.”
Jane Lyons, CEO of Cancer52, said: “Vaccinating against HPV is vital in preventing not only almost all cervical cancers but in the prevention of other rare and less common cancers, such as mouth and throat cancer. NHS England’s commitment to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 is admirable. It’s this kind of ambition we welcome from NHS England to achieve long-term change.”
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