Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers today thanks to screening, vaccination, and early treatment. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most common and deadliest cancers in women worldwide. Approximately 570,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year1. In Asia, health leaders are leveraging the power of screening, education, and collaboration in an effort to defeat cervical cancer, once and for all.
“Our goal is to have one less cancer to worry about.” Dr Ida Ismail-Pratt, Consultant, Division of Gynaecologic Oncology, National University Cancer Institute, Singapore, is not alone in this mission. Halfway around the world, Dr Mahboobeh Safaeian, Director for Clinical Sciences for the human papillomavirus (HPV) at Roche Diagnostics and Lead Researcher for the Improving Primary Screening and Colposcopy Triage (IMPACT) Study, agrees. Both have dedicated their careers to a similar goal – large-scale disease prevention for cervical cancer.
In 2018, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, called for a global commitment towards eradicating what is currently the fourth most prevalent gynaecological cancer 2. Specifically, he called for all girls to be vaccinated against HPV and all women over the age of 30 to be screened—which Dr Ismail-Pratt says are tools that must work in tandem.
“You can’t eradicate cervical cancer if you just concentrate on screening or the vaccine alone,” she says.
“The vaccine protects women from some oncogenic HPV infections but does not protect from all oncogenic HPV strains. With regular screening, we can literally save patients from cervical cancer and take necessary action before the cancer develops. Both have to work together to create an effective system for cervical cancer eradication.”
Dr Safaeian’s earlier research on HPV vaccines has led to a new standard requiring only two doses instead of three – expanding the preventative power of vaccination to low-income areas. Now, she is working to improve cervical cancer management in HPV-positive individuals through earlier pre-cancer and cancer identification, and increased monitoring of individuals with HPV infections.
Dr Safaeian hopes to fine-tune the understanding of which women with high-risk HPV strains are more likely to develop cervical cancer – and better allocate resources to managing those cases.
By accurately identifying all women at risk of developing cervical cancer with HPV screening and differentiating those who need intervention or treatment from those who do not use biomarker tests, it is possible to spare women from developing a preventable cancer and limit the risks of overtreatment.
According to Dr Ismail-Pratt, a screening tool is an improvement only if it is safe physically and psychologically for women.
“As my mentor once told me, ‘You want a screening program to be simple, scientific and safe’. We’re talking about women’s lives here.”
 Bray, Freddie, et al. (2018). Global cancer statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians 68.6.
*The information contained in this article was extracted from Edition 2019, Vol 6.Download This Volume