EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, presents the elimination of cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) as one of the Flagship initiatives of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan during the #EUCanBeatCancer event: United against Cancer on 3 February 2021. The panel discussion was joined by Dr Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation.
The Network saw its key goals on the elimination of all the cancers caused by HPV adopted by Europe's Beating Cancer Plan, which was launched in February 2021. The Plan contains major commitments on gender-neutral HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening that take account of the case we presented in our major report Viral Protection: Achieving the Possible. A Four Step Plan for Eliminating HPV Cancers in Europe.
Published in October 2020, the Viral Protection report set out a four-step plan for eliminating HPV cancers in Europe and formed the basis for the Network’s advocacy work on the Beating Cancer Plan. The report called for the implementation of gender-neutral HPV vaccination programmes and effective cervical cancer screening programmes in all European countries as well as the adoption of best-practice treatments for all patients with cancers caused by HPV, and improved HPV education and awareness programmes for both patients and health professionals.
We will now work with the European Commission and member states on effective implementation of the new Cancer Plan and discuss with WHO Europe and others how the EU’s approach to HPV can be extended across the whole European region. There is now an opportunity for Europe to play a world-leading role through making the elimination of all the cancers caused by HPV an objective shared by all European countries.
It is essential that the Commission clarifies the Beating Cancer Plan’s currently vague commitment on the vaccination uptake target for boys. There is a 90% target for girls but the objective for boys is simply a ‘significant’ increase. We are arguing for a universal 90% uptake target to ensure equitable levels of protection against all the cancers caused by HPV.
When vaccination programmes are introduced - whether for girls, boys, or both sexes - the opportunity to vaccinate and protect as many young people as possible should be seized. We are therefore also recommending that everyone is offered a catch-up vaccination at least up to the age of 18 and ideally to the age of 26.
The Network is making the case for an HPV Vaccine Tracker to be established and managed by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). A Vaccine Tracker, covering a range of key sex-disaggregated indicators including eligibility for vaccination, uptake (per dose), the vaccine type used and where the vaccine is delivered (eg. in schools, pharmacies, GP clinics), would help to monitor progress towards the Beating Cancer Plan’s goals, flag up where progress is slower and where additional support may be required, and help to encourage Member States to adopt best practice and maintain momentum.
In October 2021, the HPV Action Network, in collaboration with the Special Network on the Impact of Covid-19 on Cancer, published a position paper on self-sampling and HPV screening in Europe. This argued that offering women and people with a cervix the opportunity to collect the HPV sample themselves would contribute to the achievement of a significant increase in the uptake of cervical cancer screening. Self-sampling is particularly suitable for those who find it hard to access standard screening facilities, perhaps because they live in countries with less provision or in remote areas or have a disability, or where there are cultural barriers or previous traumatic experiences.
The Network began work on a three-year project, Action Now on HPV, in 2021. The core part of the project is a specially-commissioned mapping exercise of HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening programmes across the WHO European region. This will be followed by support for advocacy work in countries that are falling behind and where there is a realistic prospect of progress being made. Other important elements of the project include a research study on HPV vaccine hesitancy and encouraging the involvement of young people’s organisations in the HPV Action Network and advocacy.
HPV Testimonies has also been developed as part of the Action Now on HPV project. Launched during the European Cancer Summit in November 2021, HPV Testimonies is an online resource containing the very personal stories of 10 men and women who have direct experience of the different cancers caused by HPV. The testimonies illustrate how HPV can affect anyone and reveal the emotions and experiences of people as they dealt with their diagnosis and the treatments that followed. They talk about the impact on their lives and on those around them, and whether they have been able to get back to a ‘normal’ life. As the EU’s member states consider the implementation of the Beating Cancer Plan, it is essential that decision-makers keep the voices of patients at the front of their minds as they make their plans.
The HPV Action Network was established following the 2019 European Cancer Summit. At this meeting, over 300 cancer community stakeholders agreed this resolution: ‘By 2030, effective strategies to eliminate cancers caused by HPV as a public health problem should be implemented in all European countries’.
The Summit was soon followed by the launch of the Network at the European Parliament in Brussels in December 2019 with the support of Professor Véronique Trillet-Lenoir MEP (Renew Europe, France), Vice-Chair of the MEPs Against Cancer Group. The Network brings together organisations and individuals from a wide range of backgrounds who share the ambitious but highly achievable goal of eliminating all the cancers and other diseases caused by HPV across the European region.
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common sexually transmitted infection that causes 4.5% of all cancers in men and women worldwide and about 2.5% of cancers in Europe. Cervical cancer is the most commonly-caused cancer but HPV is also responsible for a high proportion of anal, penile, vaginal, vulval and oropharyngeal cancers. Up to 20-30% of HPV cancers affect men. HPV also causes genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a rare but disabling breathing condition.
Follow the HPV Action Network’s activities on Twitter @HPVAction.
Panel discussion at European Cancer Summit 2021 session "Eliminating HPV Cancers: From Flagship Policy to Flagship Practice".
This year’s European Cancer Summit 2021 featured an entire session dedicated to the topic of HPV elimination and the activities of our HPV Action Network, taking stock of the latest policy developments and putting forward concrete plans and actions for the future.
A great panel of speakers, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and the European Parliament, participated in this session.
To find out more about this Network, or support our work, please contact us here.