Experts often consider cervical cancer a preventable disease, yet it still remains the fourth most common form of cancer in females worldwide.

Despite that experts project the cases may increase through 2030, we have the tools to help prevent this cancer and improve early detection and treatment outcomes.

Given the availability of these tools, some scientists believe that it may be possible to eliminate cervical cancer from the global community, similar to eradication efforts made during the polio epidemic.

Read on to learn more about how people can eliminate cervical cancer worldwide and what you can do today to help protect yourself from developing this cancer.

About cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a condition that begins within the lining of the cervix. Screening tools, such as Pap tests, can help detect precancerous cells that could lead to this type of cancer, as well as early stages of cancer when it’s often most treatable.

Experts attribute most cervical cancer cases to infections from the human papillomavirus (HPV). While there’s currently no cure for HPV, vaccination can help prevent related infections and the development of cervical cancer in females.

In November 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. It outlines a three-step plan that could potentially reduce 40 percent of overall cervical cancer cases by 2050, as well as 5 million associated deaths.

The three steps, which would need to be met by 194 countries by the year 2030 include the following goals:

  • Vaccination: 90 percent of young females fully vaccinated against HPV by 15 years old
  • Screening: 70 percent of females screened for HPV using an expert-recommended “high performance test,” such as DNA testing, at 35 years old and again at 45 years old
  • Treatment: 90 percent of females with cervical cancer will receive treatment, including pre-cancer treatments as well as invasive cervical cancer management

Researchers also acknowledge a need for educational awareness promoting prevention and treatment strategies.

Is cervical cancer preventable?

While some cases of cervical cancer run in families, most risk factors for this type of cancer can often be preventable, such as with HPV vaccines. Regular cancer screenings can also be crucial in detecting this type of cancer in its early stages, when treatment is often most effective.

Preventing cervical cancer can be dependent on taking steps to reduce your overall risk. This often primarily includes HPV vaccination, as well as regular screenings.

Vaccinations

Currently, experts recommend that HPV vaccine schedules include:

  • two doses of the HPV vaccine for adolescents starting at ages 11 to 12
  • “catch-up” doses for both males and females before 27 years old
  • possible doses for adults 27 to 45 who never received an HPV vaccine, and may be considered high-risk

Screenings

Regular cervical cancer screenings are also crucial to preventing this cancer. Experts estimate that half of all people who develop this cancer never underwent screening.

Current recommendations include:

  • Pap tests every 3 years for females ages 21 to 29
  • Pap tests every 3 years for females ages 30 to 65 or Pap testing/HPV co-testing every 5 years
  • Pap tests or HPV tests after 65 years old if a doctor recommends it

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the WHO’s cervical cancer eradication strategy?

The COVID-19 pandemic led to difficulties with the implementation of the WHO’s strategy for cervical cancer eradication due to interruptions in screenings, treatments, and vaccinations.

Furthermore, pandemic-related closures made it more difficult for people from rural areas to travel for preventive and treatment measures. Border closures also led to delays in medical supplies.

What’s the best way to prevent cervical cancer?

Since the majority of cervical cancer cases link to HPV infections, often the best way to prevent the development of this type of cancer can be to get a vaccine.

Other preventive measures can include quitting smoking if possible and managing weight if a doctor recommends it for health reasons.

What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?

HPV infection is often the biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • a weakened immune system
  • a history of multiple full-term pregnancies
  • long-term use of birth control pills (oral contraceptives)

What are the best treatment strategies for cervical cancer?

While the exact treatment for cervical cancer depends on its stage, a doctor may recommend a combination of therapies, including:

What’s the overall outlook for cervical cancer?

The overall outlook for cervical cancer depends on how far the cancer spreads, as well as treatment response. Experts estimate that the 5-year survival rates are 91 percent for stage I cervical cancer, and 17 percent for stage IV.

Cervical cancer is often a preventable disease, yet it remains a worldwide health concern. Increasing awareness and the availability of preventive measures — such as HPV vaccines and regular screenings — may make it possible to eradicate this cancer.

The WHO outlined a strategy to place countries on a path to eliminate cervical cancer, with specific action items implemented by 2030.

Ask a doctor about your own risk factors for cervical cancer, and how you can prevent your or your child’s risk of HPV infection and related cancers. Vaccination can be key, but regular screenings can also help detect cervical cancers early for the best possible outcome.