More Pap Screening and HPV Vaccination Has Huge Potential for Preventing Cervical Cancer

Study finds millions of cases could be avoided
Cervical cancer vaccinations for young girls

Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women – but it’s also one of the most preventable. The rise of Pap screening and HPV vaccination have made early detection and prevention a life-saver for many.

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But they could be saving many more lives, according to a new study which found that a substantial increase in screening and vaccination could prevent up to 13.4 million cases of cervical cancer worldwide in the next 50 years.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, with approximately 570,000 new cases diagnosed in 2018.

A significant increase in screening and vaccination worldwide could also potentially eliminate cervical cancer as a major public health problem in 82 percent of countries by the year 2100, researchers say.

In higher-income countries, they think it could be nearly eliminated even sooner.

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If current prevention programs are not expanded, though, as many as 44.4 million cervical cancer cases could be diagnosed over the next 50 years, the researchers predict. This uptick could result in as many as 15 million deaths in less-developed countries in that time.

The prevention plan

All women should be screened for cervical cancer beginning in their early 20s, says gynecologic oncologist Robert DeBernardo, MD, who did not take part in the study.

“By the time women reach 21, they may start seeing these pre-cancer changes, so this is a critical time when we can identify this and treat it,” he says. “If we treat these pre-cancers, then these women are not going to develop cervical cancer.”

Dr. DeBernardo adds that another important part of cervical cancer prevention includes vaccination against the human papillomavirus, which is responsible for most cervical cancers.

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He encourages everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, as research shows HPV vaccination rates are lower than they should be within the U.S.

“In the United States, our vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus vaccines are sadly low, and this is a disturbing trend,” he says. “It’s important for folks to empower themselves and get the vaccination series — it makes total sense. If you were to ask any of my patients who have had significant cervical dysplasia, or even cancer, they would trade that for a vaccine in a heartbeat.”

Complete results of the study can be found in The Lancet Oncology.

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