We can eliminate cervical cancer by 2038

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HPV vaccine. Image: Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe

A preventable cancer might be virtually eradicated in the U.S. within the next two decades, according to a new study out [February 10]. It estimates that cervical cancer could be eliminated by as early as 2038, given current rates of vaccination and pap smear screening. Making sure that 90 percent of women receive screening on schedule, however, could cut that timeline down by a decade.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). In recent years, scientists have developed vaccines that can prevent infection from most of these strains. There’s already evidence that HPV vaccination is starting to dramatically lower the risk of cervical and other cancers linked to the virus.

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In a country where cervical cancer is effectively eradicated, the WHO has said, four or fewer women out of every 100,000 would develop cervical cancer annually. In the U.S., that would still represent a marked improvement from the 13,800 new cases currently expected in 2020.

While accomplishing these goals is easier said than done, the authors hope this new study will motivate the U.S. to do more to encourage women to regularly go in for pap smears.

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