Up to three women each day could still be diagnosed with cervical cancer after it gets ‘eliminated’ in England, figures suggest.
However, elimination would technically be achieved when fewer than four women per 100,000 are diagnosed every year.
For comparison, the rate currently stands at 9.5 women, equating to around 2,600 annually.
This means around 1,100 women a year — or three a day — could still be dealt the heartbreaking diagnosis if the health service’s elimination goal is met.
One renowned expert today called the elimination pledge ‘nonsense PR’ because there will always be some women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
NHS England today announced its ‘truly momentous’ goal of slashing the number of women who are hit with the cancer by 2040 by boosting HPV vaccine and cervical screening uptake. However, elimination would technically be achieved when fewer than four women per 100,000 are diagnosed (blue dotted line). For comparison, 9.5 women per 100,000 in England are told they have cervical cancer (pine line), equating to 2,626 annually
Thousands of women are still diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, leading to 685 deaths in England annually. Around half of women (51 per cent) survive 10 years or more after diagnosis. Diagnoses are most common among women in their thirties
Cervical cancer symptoms to look out for include unusual vaginal bleeding, pain during sex and lower back or pelvic pain
Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) — a common group of viruses transmitted through sexual contact that usually cause no symptoms.
Most people will get HPV at some point in their life and their body will clear it without any problems.
However, 13 out of the 150 varieties of HPV stay in the body for a long time and are known to cause 99.7 per cent per cent of cervical cancers.
Vaccines are offered to all children aged 12 to 13, which protects against all cancers caused by HPV, such as anal, mouth and throat, as well as cervical.
Cervical screening — offered to women aged 25 to 64 — provides another form of defence against the cancer, checking for changes to the cells in the cervix caused by HPV. If found, these cells can be treated before they turn into cancer.
The early symptoms of cervical cancer that are hard to spot
Cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms or signs may not be obvious.
The most common symptoms are unusual vaginal bleeding, including after the menopause, after sex or between regular periods; changes to vaginal discharge; pain or discomfort during sex; and unexplained pain in the lower back or pelvis.
The main cause of cervical cancer is a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is very common and usually goes away on its own without causing any problems.
But it sometimes causes changes in the cells of the cervix, which can develop into cervical cancer. On average this happens slowly, typically between five and 20 years.
Other risk factors include smoking, a weakened immune system, taking the oral contraceptive pill and a medicine called diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women from 1938 until 1971.
Currently in the UK, less than one in 100 women will develop cervical cancer in their lifetime.
Research predicts that someone who did not have the HPV vaccine and never went to cervical screening would have a lifetime risk of about 2 in 100.
Cervical cancer deaths in the UK fell by 75 per cent between 1971/73 and 2017/19, when adjusted for the changing age of the population.
Since the early 1990s, cervical cancer incidence rates have decreased by 25 per cent in females in the UK.
Incidence rates for cervical cancer in the UK are highest in females aged 30 to 34 and deaths are highest among those aged over 90-years-old.
Some 51 per cent of patients diagnosed with cervical cancer survive for ten or more years.
Cervical screening samples are examined for high-risk HPV. If the virus is found, the sample will be looked at again for cell changes.
If there are no cell changes, the woman will be invited back for cervical screening in one year to make sure the HPV has cleared.
If high-risk HPV and cell changes are found, women will be invited for a colposcopy, which involves using a microscope to look at the cervix in more detail.
However, thousands of women are still diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, leading to 685 deaths in England annually.
Around half of women (51 per cent) survive 10 years or more after diagnosis.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard today set out that England will be one of the first countries in the world to set the goal of eliminating the cancer in the next two decades.
Australia expects to hit the target in 2035, making it the frontrunner.
Under her plans, NHS staff will encourage more to come forward for the jab, make it easier to book vaccination appointments and offer it in ‘more convenient settings’, such as libraries, community centres and sports facilities.
They will also invite more people to come forward for cervical screening and trial self-testing with swabs women can use at home before sending back in the post.
Ms Pritchard said: ‘It is truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition today.
‘To eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement and through a combination of our HPV vaccination programme, and our highly-effective cervical screening programme, it could become a reality in in the next two decades.’
The NHS is using the World Health Organization’s elimination definition of countries reaching a case rate of fewer than four per 100,000 women.
But this could see more than 1,000 women a year being diagnosed with cervical cancer in England annually 17 years from now, while the health service claims it has eliminated the disease.
Professor Karol Sikora, a world-renowned oncologist with over 40 years’ experience, told MailOnline the NHS target is ‘nonsense PR’.
‘You can reduce cervical cancer but not eliminate it. It will always be there.’
He said rates of cervical cancer are already falling because of the game-changing HPV vaccine.
Increasing people’s access to the NHS through their GP would see ‘all types of cancer become more curable’, Professor Sikora added.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘This claim is rubbish. As both patient groups and cancer experts have said, it is obviously fantastic news for thousands of women that England will be one of the first countries in the world to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 — in line with the WHO definition of elimination of the condition.’
As it stands, 9.5 women per 100,000 in England are told they have cervical cancer every year.
The figure has fallen from around 13 per 100,000 in the early 90s.
Experts have credited the HPV vaccine — which became available on the NHS in 2008 — for helping to virtually eradicate the disease among women.
However, the jab, like all vaccines, does not offer 100 per cent protection, so women who have it are still recommended to have their regular smear tests.
Cervical screening in 2022 dropped to a 10-year low, with just two-thirds of eligible women coming forward (69.9 per cent). It means nearly 5million missed out.
Charities warned that women who got the HPV vaccine in their teens may be under a false sense of security and think they don’t need the regular tests.
NHS cervical screening data, which goes back to 2011, shows uptake was at its highest that year (75.7 per cent) and has fallen over time.
NHS cervical screening data, which goes back to 2011, shows uptake was at its highest that year (75.7 per cent) and has fallen over time
Just 67.2 per cent of girls were fully vaccinated in 2021/22, down from a high of 86.7 per cent in 2013/14. Some 62.4 per cent of boys, who have been offered the jab on the NHS since 2019, were jabbed in the most recent school year, NHS data shows
Reality star Jade Goody (pictured), who died from the disease in 2009 aged 27, was credited for encouraging 400,000 more women to attend screenings. However, charities have since warned that the impact of her death on uptake has faded
But just 67.3 per cent of girls aged 13/14 were vaccinated in 2021/22, down from a high of 86.7 per cent in 2013/14.
Some 62.4 per cent of boys, who have been offered the jab on the NHS since 2019, were jabbed in the most recent school year, NHS data shows.
Reality star Jade Goody, who died from the disease in 2009 aged 27, was credited for encouraging 400,000 more women to attend screenings. However, charities have since warned that the impact of her death on uptake has faded.
Nicola Smith, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, told MailOnline that the charity supports the NHS pledge cervical cancer elimination pledge but warned ‘there’s still work to be done’.
She said: ‘The combination of HPV vaccination and cervical screening has the potential to tackle cervical cancer to a point where almost no one develops it.
‘The HPV vaccine has been shown to dramatically reduce cervical cancer rates by almost 90 per cent in women in their 20s who were offered it at age 12 to 13.
‘But there’s still work to be done to ensure even more people can benefit from HPV vaccination and cervical screening programmes.
‘The main priority will be to tackle barriers to uptake of the HPV vaccine and cervical screening and make sure these programmes are backed by sufficient resource and modern IT infrastructure.’