In just 35 years, the United States managed to reduce cervical cancer rates by 54 percent with the help of Pap smears.
Now, human papillomavirus vaccination, double screening and more effective treatment might be able do away with the cancer.
In two new studies in the Lancet, the World Health Organization lays out how. The studies model what might happen if the United Nations’ health agency commits to a three-part strategy to wipe out cervical cancer.
It is known as “90-70-90”: vaccinating 90 percent of women against multiple strains of HPV, screening 70 percent of women for cervical cancer at ages 35 and 45, and giving care to 90 percent of women diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Taken together, those three steps could eliminate more than 74 million cases and save more than 62 million lives, researchers write.
In the first study, researchers modeled what would happen in 78 low- and lower-middle income countries if HPV vaccination and screening were ramped up. The second study added cancer treatment to the mix.
Vaccination alone could reduce rates by 89 percent in the next century, they conclude. Adding screening twice in a lifetime could reduce 97 percent of deaths. And if the three-pronged strategy became the norm by 2120, cervical cancer mortality could be reduced by 99 percent.
Sixty percent of cervical cancer deaths happen in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Although cervical cancer deaths have dramatically fallen in the United States since the 1970s, significant disparities remain. Black women in the United States still have high mortality rates from cervical cancer compared with white women. One 2017 study found that black women’s cervical cancer rates “[rival] the rate of undeveloped countries” at 37.2 deaths per 100,000.
Adopting the 90-70-90 strategy in the United States could correct that disparity: Marc Brisson, the epidemiologist and mathematical modeling specialist who was one of the lead researchers, tells Medical News Today’s Maria Cohut that the strategy could do away with cervical cancer in high-income countries in just 20 years, too.
The proposed approach is relatively simple, but it would take significant worldwide investment. The World Health Assembly will consider approving the strategy in May.