NHS England vows to 'wipe out cervical cancer by 2040'

Two women die of cervical cancer every day, but an NHS boss has pledged to eradicate it by 2040, ITV News Health and Science Correspondent Martin Stew reports

The NHS has pledged to wipe out cervical cancer in England by 2040 as the health service vows to ramp up vaccinations and uptake of smear tests.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, will tell the NHS Providers' conference in Liverpool that a combination of vaccines in schools and cervical screening means the disease is on track to be eliminated.

Australia has said it wants to be the first country in the world to eliminate the disease by 2035, though other countries such as Sweden may get there first.

Eliminating cervical cancer will mean fewer than four in every 100,000 women in England will develop the disease.

NHS England will now ramp up its efforts to get more people vaccinated – including in libraries and sports centres – as well as driving up the number of women attending screening.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard is due to make the pledge at a conference in Liverpool today Credit: PA

Human papillomavirus (HPV) refers to a group of viruses which can be transmitted through sexual contact and cause no symptoms. Around 13 high-risk types of HPV are known to cause 99.7% of cervical cancers.

There is a vaccine for HPV which is given to boys and girls when they are 12 to 13 years old and to people at high risk from HPV - introduced in a national routine programme in 2008.

Since September, children have been receiving a single dose of the jab when they are in Year 8 rather than the two doses given previously.

Latest figures show that, in 2021-2022, some 86.5% of girls have had one dose by Year 10. For boys, the figure is 81.5%.

Under new plans, Ms Pritchard will say health and care staff will be supported to identify people who most need the vaccine, through targeted outreach and offering jabs in places where people study or socialise, such as libraries, community centres, leisure and sport facilities.

The NHS is also working to drive up the number of women attending cervical screening appointments by making sure those who do not attend are sent reminders. Currently a third of women do not take up their offer.

The NHS is also expanding pilots for self-sampling, where women carry out cervical screening in the comfort of their own homes.

Ms Pritchard said it was “truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition”, adding that eliminating cervical cancer “would be an incredible achievement”.

She said: “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.”

For more information on cervical cancer symptoms, screenings and treatments:

Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and around 850 women die.

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.”

A spokesperson for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “By improving the uptake of both cervical screening and HPV vaccines, we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past.”

As well as tackling cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine helps prevent cancers of the head and neck (mouth and throat), and cancers of the anus and genital areas.

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