New report urges action to eliminate 87,000 cancer cases caused each year by HPV in Europe in women and men

07 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 (published today), 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 the 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.

A dedicated webpage about the report is available here.

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