COCIR Statement On Cervical Cancer In The EU

Cervical cancer, once a major cause of premature death in women, has increasingly become an avoidable disease. The development of effective vaccines should ensure that women should not develop cervical cancer; meanwhile, the widespread uptake of effective screening programmes should ensure that those unfortunate enough to develop the disease are identified early and treated promptly.

Despite this, there are still more than 33,000 newly-diagnosed cases of cervical cancer each year and more than 13,000 premature deaths caused by the disease in EU/EEA countries. There is still a great deal of work required to if society is to eliminate cervical cancer, and will require us to take full advantage of all relevant advances in technology.

Efforts to eliminate cervical cancer will benefit from the latest developments in screening. Screening techniques are becoming increasingly better-targeted, detecting the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) at a molecular level by searching for the viral DNA. However, some strains of HPV pose a higher risk, and the DNA-based approach lacked the desired level of specificity.

In recent years, tests that target E6/E7 mRNA have been developed, capable of identifying high-risk HPV infections that are present and active with both high accuracy and high specificity. This maximises the benefits of screening by reducing the numbers of false positives and patient recalls. It also reduces the stresses on patients caused by false positives.

Despite this, the existing European guidelines on screening do not take these advances into account. In committing to a prevention agenda, Europe should commit to adopting the best available screening techniques for this avoidable condition.

At the same time, it is important to remember that no screening programme will be 100 percent effective, there are, and will remain, individuals that will require treatment for their disease. They should also be entitled to expect access to the most advanced and effective treatment, including radiotherapy. Radiotherapy, in combination with chemotherapy is a mainstay of  cervical cancer treatment; advances in radiotherapy have allowed more accurate targeting and lower overall dosages, improving survival rates and outcomes for patients.

The current number of diagnoses of, and premature deaths resulting from, cervical cancer are unacceptable and avoidable. The solutions for reducing these numbers – both in terms of prevention and treatment – are available. COCIR urges those responsible for setting health policy to recognise this; they should take account of the expert evidence available to shape future prevention and treatment approaches. They should also broaden consultation to allow for greater input from industry. Effective contributions from all stakeholders is the most effective way to maximise expert input and address the challenge of this unnecessary threat to the health of Europe’s women.