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Cervical cancer 'could be eliminated', NHS experts say

The health service has completed its rollout of a new screening method which sees cervical samples first checked for HPV. Credit: PA

Cervical cancer could be eliminated through a combination of upgraded screenings and vaccinations for children, NHS experts say.

The health service has completed its rollout of a new screening method which sees cervical samples first checked for the human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancer and can also cause cancers in other genital areas, such as the vagina, vulva, penis and anus.

HPV is a common infection spread through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex or oral sex.

Until now, cervical screening samples have been examined and those that showed possible cell changes were then tested for HPV.

New methods of cancer treatment have been implemented earlier this year to focus radiation on the tumour more accurately. Credit: PA

But this has now being switched around, with cells first tested for HPV infection, and only those that have the virus examined for abnormal cells.

This means any sign of infection can be spotted at an earlier stage before cancer goes on to develop.

Research has also shown the new method picks up far more cases of pre-cancerous lesions than the old one.

There are 2,500 new cases of cervical cancer in England every year.

A quarter of these could be prevented with the new method of testing.

2,500
New cases of cervical cancer in England every year.

Alongside the new screening, all 12- and 13-year-olds in school years eight are offered a vaccine to protect against HPV.

Currently, the national NHS HPV vaccination programme uses the vaccine Gardasil, which protects against four types of HPV that cause most cases of cancer.

Last year, researchers said cervical cancer could be effectively eliminated in most countries around the world by the end of the 21st century thanks to the jab and improved screening.

HPV is a common infection spread through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex or oral sex. Credit: PA

Professor Peter Johnson, the NHS' national clinical director for cancer, said the new HPV cervical screening test "will save lives".

He added: "It is vitally important that all eligible people attend for their screening appointments, to keep themselves safe.

"Combined with the success of the HPV vaccine for both boys and girls, we hope that cervical cancer can be eliminated altogether by the NHS in England.

"The chances of surviving cancer are at a record high, but there is always more we can do, as we continue to deliver our Long Term Plan."

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Prof Johnson added cervical cancer often causes no symptoms during the early stages of the disease, which is why it is "especially important that people attend their tests and that those who are eligible get vaccinated against HPV."

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "It is exciting that we are seeing advances in cervical cancer prevention and must continue to look to the future to make sure our cervical screening programme continues to adapt and evolve.

"The day that cervical cancer is a disease of the past is one we should be aiming to get to as soon as possible."

In 2018/19, 71.9% of eligible women aged 25 to 64 were screened for cervical cancer, with experts expressing concern about low uptake among young women.