HPV causes about 5% of all cancers worldwide. The most common of these cancers is cervical but the virus is also implicated in cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, penis, head and neck. A significant proportion of the cancers caused by HPV in Europe are in men.
The World Health Organization now has a global strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer. This has three main elements: vaccinating at least 90% of girls, screening 70% of women, and treating at least 90% of precancerous lesions and invasive cancers. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, published by the European Commission in 2021, is more ambitious. It contains a ‘flagship’ commitment to gender-neutral HPV vaccination in every Member State and aims to eliminate all the cancers caused by HPV.
The European Cancer Organisation’s HPV Action Network is calling for gender-neutral HPV vaccination and nationally-organised, population-based, cervical cancer screening programmes, using HPV DNA testing technologies, to be introduced throughout the WHO European Region. To support this work, we commissioned the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO)/IDIBELL to map current vaccination and screening policies across the region.
This mapping exercise has enabled us to identify countries that are already taking the necessary steps to tackle those cancers caused by HPV and, even more importantly, the countries that are falling behind. Several countries in the European Region still have no HPV vaccination or effective cervical cancer screening programmes. Many with vaccination programmes still do not take a gender neutral approach. Importantly, a significant number of countries with vaccination and screening programmes have sub-optimal levels of service uptake.
There is, clearly, still plenty of work to do to achieve the elimination of all cancers caused by HPV as a public health problem. But, armed with the vital information contained in this report, we will now do what we can to accelerate action at the regional level and also to support advocacy efforts by HPV organisations within individual countries to help ensure that all health systems take the action that is needed to protect their populations effectively.
If all countries in the region emulated the current best-performers, almost 100,000 cancer cases a year could be prevented. That would be a remarkable achievement and a world-leading example for other regions to follow.
Read the full report here.