Cervical cancer was the most common cancer killer of persons with a cervix in the early 1900s in the United States. Widespread adoption of the Pap test in the mid-20th century followed by large-scale outreach through programs such as the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program have dramatically reduced deaths from cervical cancer. The development of a highly effective vaccine that targets human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus implicated in all cervical cancers, has made prevention even more accessible and attainable. Primary prevention with HPV vaccination in conjunction with regular screening as recommended by current guidelines is the most effective way we can prevent cervical cancer.
Despite these advances, the incidence and death rates from cervical cancer have plateaued over the last decade.1 Additionally, many fear that due to the poor attendance at screening visits since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the incidence might further rise in the United States.2 Among those in the United States diagnosed with cervical cancer, more than 50% have not been screened in over 5 years or had their abnormal results not managed as recommended by current guidelines, suggesting that operational and access issues are contributors to incident cervical cancer. In addition, HPV vaccination rates have increased only slightly from year to year. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coverage with 1 or more doses of HPV vaccine in 2021 increased only by 1.8% and has stagnated, with administration to about 75% of those for whom it is recommended.3 The plateauing will limit our ability to eradicate cervical cancer in the United States, permitting death from a largely preventable disease.
Establishing the framework for the eradication of cervical cancer
The World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a global strategy called the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative in August 2020. This initiative is a multipronged effort that focuses on vaccination (90% of girls fully vaccinated by age 15), screening (70% of women screened by age 35 with an effective test and again at age 45), and treatment (90% treatment of precancer and 90% management of women with invasive cancer).4
These are the numbers we need to achieve if all countries are to reach a cervical cancer incidence of less than 4 per 100,000 persons with a cervix. The WHO further suggests that each country should meet the “90-70-90” targets by 2030 if we are to achieve the low incidence by the turn of the century.4 To date, few regions of the world have achieved these goals, and sadly the United States is not among them.
In response to this call to action, many medical and policymaking organizations are taking inventory and implementing strategies to achieve the WHO 2030 targets for cervical cancer eradication. In the United States, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO; www.sgo.org), the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP; www.ASCCP.org), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG; www.acog.org), the American Cancer Society (ACS; www.cancer.org), and many others have initiated programs in a collaborative esprit de corps with the aim of eradicating this deadly disease.
In this Update, we review several studies with evidence of screening and management strategies that show promise of accelerating the eradication of cervical cancer.
Continue to: Transitioning to primary HPV screening in the United States...