- HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common sexually transmitted infection that causes almost 5% of all cancers in women and men worldwide. These include cervical, anal, penile, vaginal, vulval and oropharyngeal cancers.
- HPV also causes genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP).
- Diseases caused by HPV can be prevented through vaccination. Ideally, this should be done in adolescence, before exposure to the virus.
- HPV vaccination is most effective if provided to both sexes. However, most countries in Europe do not currently vaccinate boys. HPV vaccination uptake also remains low in some countries.
- Cervical cancer screening is available in most European countries but only a minority of programmes can be described as adequate. Moreover, most countries do not yet offer HPV testing, now recognised to be the most effective screening method. The uptake of cervical cancer screening also varies widely within and between countries. Self-sampling HPV testing could play an important role in increasing uptake.
- Treatment outcomes vary widely across European countries, with five-year survival rates for cervical cancer ranging from 54-80%.
- There are very concerning gaps in public and professional awareness of HPV issues and a significant risk that vaccination programmes in particular will be affected by safety fears fuelled by ‘fake news’.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious adverse impact on vaccination and screening programmes. This problem must be addressed as soon as possible.
The European Cancer Organisation is calling for urgent evidence-based policy and practical action by the EU and all governments throughout the WHO European region to eliminate cancers and diseases caused by HPV. The goals must include:
- Universal (or ‘gender-neutral’) HPV vaccination for adolescents and optimal levels of uptake.
- National organised population-based cervical cancer screening programmes using HPV testing systems and with higher levels of uptake.
- Cancer treatments consistently and equitably offered in line with best practice guidelines and care and support that maximises patients’ quality of life.
- Action to improve public and professional awareness and education about HPV in order to improve vaccination and screening uptake.
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