Cervical cancer prevention: a journey of failure

Cervical cancer affects more than 3,000 women in France each year and causes approximately 1,100 deaths. However, it should be on its way out: It is the only cancer for which there is a screening test (…) and a vaccine ”, recalled the National Institute for Fight against Cancer (INCa) in its anti-cancer plan 2014-2019, which at the time aimed for a vaccination coverage of 60% among girls. However, the results are disappointing. While the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) – responsible for 70% of cervical cancer – has been available since 2006, the complete vaccination schedule for 16-year-old girls is 37.4% in 2021, according to Public Health France.

“It is far from satisfactory and it is a failure compared to other European countries, but we see a real increase”, temperaments Doctor Jean-Baptiste Méric, medical oncologist and director of the public health and care center at INCa. In 2015, the rate was 13.5%.

“We can’t get people to be vaccinated”, notes Professor Xavier Carcopino, head of the gynecology-obstetrics department at the Nord hospital in Marseille and vice-president of the French Society of Colposcopy and Cervicovaginal Pathology. Thus, France is one of the European countries with the lowest rates of HPV vaccination: England, Portugal and Sweden have succeeded in vaccinating 85%, 76% and 83% of their target population respectively.

Vaccination against papillomavirus, in Lille, October 2010.

It is all the more hopeless as we have more than fifteen years of hindsight”. emphasizes Professor Carcopino. Several studies have previously confirmed a clear reduction of HPV infections and precancerous lesions thanks to vaccination. Recently, its impact on the decrease in cervical cancer has been demonstrated: an open population study between 2006 and 2017 involving more than 1.6 million Swedish women aged 10 to 30 years has determined that vaccination against -HPV reduced the risk of developing invasive cancer by 88% in females vaccinated before age 17.

For many professionals, the disappearance of the school vaccination policy is largely to blame for these low rates. Countries with the highest vaccination coverage have introduced school vaccination programmes. Sweden, for example, offered it for free from 2012 to girls aged 10 to 12. In 2021, 84% of those under the age of 16 received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine.

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