Cervical cancer causes the deaths of 850 women in England every year. (Picture: Getty)
England is one of the first countries in the world to set a deadline for defeating cervical cancer within the next two decades.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, will speak at the NHS Providers’ conference in Liverpool today to say that vaccines in schools and cervical screening will eliminate the disease.
The NHS will now ramp up efforts to get more people vaccinated and increase the number of women that are screened for this disease.
Most cervical cancer cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through sexual contact and causes no symptoms.
Roughly 13 high-risk types of HPV cause 99.7% of cervical cancers.
The human papilloma virus, which causes the overwhelming majority of cervical cancer cases (Picture: Getty)
Boys and girls are given a vaccine for HPV when they are aged between 12 to 13 years old. People at high risk from HPV also receive the jab.
Since September, children have been receiving a single dose of the vaccine when they are in Year 8, rather than the two doses given previously.
In 2021-2022, 86.5% of girls had received one dose by Year 10. For boys, the figure is 81.5%.
Health and care staff will now be supported to identify people who need the vaccine most, with targeted outreach and opportunities to get jabs in places where people study or socialise such as libraries, community centres or leisure and sport facilities.
The NHS is also sending more appointment reminders to drive up the number of women who attend cervical screening.
Currently a third of women do not take up their offer.
The NHS is also expanding self-sampling, which enables women to carry out cervical screening in 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.’
Signs of cervical cancer
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
Vaginal bleeding that’s unusual for you – including bleeding during or after sex, between your periods or after the menopause, or having heavier periods than usual
Changes to your vaginal discharge
Pain during sex
Pain in your lower back, between your hip bones (pelvis), or in your lower tummy
These symptoms can be caused by many different conditions, but it is important to see a GP if you have any signs of cervical cancer. Visit the NHS website for more information.
Eliminating cervical cancer means that fewer than four in every 100,000 women in England will develop the disease.
Currently, around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and roughly 850 women die.
‘We support NHS England’s target and pledge to save even more lives from cervical cancer,’ said Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information.
‘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.’
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 also helps to prevent cancers of the head and neck (mouth and throat), and cancers of the anus and genital areas.