New Report Urges Action to Eliminate 87,000 Cancer Cases Caused Each Year by HPV in Europe in Women and Men

October 2020

The European Cancer Organisation’s major new report, Viral Protection: Achieving the Possible. A Four Step Plan for Eliminating HPV Cancers in Europe, calls for urgent action to eliminate most of the 87,000 cancer cases caused in men and women by HPV (human papillomavirus) each year across over 50 countries in the WHO European Region.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, due for later this year, provides a great opportunity for the EU to take the lead on this issue. The WHO European Region should also recommend action to all its member states, in addition to the recent WHO Global Strategy for elimination of cervical cancer.

The report has been produced in collaboration with the professionals of many cancer and other organisations and patients who make up the European Cancer Organisation’s HPV Action Network. This is the first Europe-wide advocacy initiative to tackle HPV-caused cancers.

Viral Protection highlights that:

  • A quarter (14 out of 54, 26%) of European region countries still do not vaccinate girls against HPV.

  • Under a half (26 countries, 48%) vaccinate, or are planning to start vaccinating, boys as well as girls.

  • Few countries meet the widely-accepted target of 80% HPV vaccination coverage.

  • 16 countries have ‘opportunistic’ cervical cancer screening which means their success depends on the initiative of individual women and their doctors, resulting in lower uptake.

  • Treatment outcomes for cancers caused by HPV vary widely across the region; for women diagnosed with cervical cancer, five-year survival rates range from 80% in Iceland to 55% in Poland and Bulgaria. 

  • ‘Fake news’ about HPV vaccination safety, widely shared via social media, has resulted in falls in uptake; in Denmark, it fell from 90% to 54%.

The report sets out an evidence-based case for action on 28 recommendations on four main fronts:

  1. Universal (or ‘gender-neutral’) HPV vaccination for adolescents should be introduced along with efforts to maximise uptake.

  2. National organised population-based cervical cancer screening programmes are needed with higher levels of uptake. Screening programmes should use HPV testing technologies which are much more accurate than the traditional Pap smear.

  3. Cancer treatments must be consistently and equitably offered across all European countries in line with best practice guidelines and with care and support that maximises patients’ quality of life.

  4. Action is needed to improve public and professional awareness and education about HPV in order to improve vaccination and screening uptake and to tackle fake news head-on.

The European Cancer Organisation is urging the European Commission to take action in its new Beating Cancer Plan. The report will also be discussed at the European Cancer Organisation’s Summit on 18/19 November where resolutions on HPV will be discussed and voted on and then become part of its continuing policy and advocacy work on this key issue.

Commenting on the call to action, Dr Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation, said:

“The new Report, Viral Protection: Achieving the Possible, builds on the World Health Organization’s recently-published global cervical cancer strategy and sets out how elimination of cancers and diseases caused by HPV can be realised through realistic investment and most importantly by building on good practice already in place in many but still too few European countries. This goal, which really is a no-brainer, is achievable through evidence-based steps in four key areas: vaccination, screening, treatment, and public and professional education. We know what to do, so let’s seize the moment.”

Professor Daniel Kelly, Co-Chair of the European Cancer Organisation’s HPV Action Network, said:

“The forthcoming Beating Cancer Plan is a unique opportunity for the EU to take the lead in eliminating all cancers caused by HPV in men and women. We urge the Commission to adopt our proposals for action and for member states to act, especially those currently behind in terms of HPV vaccination, screening, treatment and public awareness.”

Professor Rui Medeiros, Co-Chair of the European Cancer Organisation’s HPV Action Network, said:

“The World Health Organization considers ‘vaccine hesitancy’ – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – as one of the top 10 threats to global health. We have already seen the impact of fake news on HPV vaccination programmes in Europe with unfounded rumours about safety significantly reducing uptake. Unless action is taken quickly, thousands of people may suffer or die unnecessarily from easily-preventable cancers.”