Spiraling Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer remains one of the most common cancers in women worldwide, causing millions of deaths annually. Most of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where the healthcare infrastructure is weak or inaccessible. Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus has been recognized as the prime cause of virtually all cervical cancer cases. The advent of highly advanced HPV vaccines as a primary prevention tool for cervical cancer has made way for the eradication of the disease.

New vaccines targeting cervical cancer are undergoing trials across the world and being heralded as promising breakthroughs in the field of immunotherapy. Zimbabwe recently launched a campaign to reduce its soaring cervical cancer rates. Over 800,000 girls are expected to be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus. The HPV vaccine is likely to be included in routine immunizations and rolled out in schools and health facilities across the country to reach girls aged between 10 to 14 years. A collaborative effort involving the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Zimbabwean health ministry, the campaign is expected to reach 95% of the nation. “This is an important event for Zimbabwe for improving women’s health,” said the country’s first lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, on announcing the rollout. “Zimbabwe is highly burdened with cervical cancer and the mortality rate of 64% has to be reversed. Today we are dealing a blow against cervical cancer.”

A recent global review of about 26 different trials revealed that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines are effective in protecting women from cervical lesions, which appear prior to the development of cervical cancer in women. The study involved over 73,000 women, where most were under 26 and were monitored for up to 8 years after vaccination. It was found that the vaccines work effectively in women aged between 15 and 26 years of age. In women aged between 25 to 45 years of age, the effects of HPV vaccine on precancer are smaller. According to researchers, this might be due to them having already been exposed to HPV.

Australia could become the first country to eradicate cervical cancer in the world, according to the International Papillomavirus Society. A new research found that Australia’s free HPV vaccine program in schools resulted in a drastic reduction in future cervical cancer rates. The federal government began providing the vaccine in 2007 for free to girls aged 12 to 13 years. In 2013, the program was extended to boys. Girls and boys above those ages but under 19 can also access two doses of the vaccine for free. According to Suzanne Garland, a professor from the Royal Women’s Hospital, who led the research said that within a span of 40 years, the number of new cases is likely to drop to just a few.

Ian Frazer, a professor at The University of Queensland’s and the co-inventor of the vaccine, said that the government recently introduced an advanced screening test that could eradicate cervical cancer even sooner. “As long as we continue the screening program, we will continue to pick up those with the virus already, and as long as we keep up the vaccination, we could have no new cases in 10-20 years. Only 50-60% of women participate regularly in the screening program. If that was 100% we would have no cervical cancer in this country even without the vaccine.”, he said.

The government of Tanzania also began a vaccination program against cervical cancer for young girls. Over 600,000 girls aged between nine and 14 are receiving the vaccination to protect them against the deadly disease at an early age.