By Susan Donlon, Communications Team, National Screening Service
Ireland can eliminate cervical cancer within 17 years.
The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD made the announcement at an event to mark Cervical Cancer Elimination Day of Action, saying “I cannot think of a better way to mark the day than to be one of the first countries in the world to announce our target date. We are now in a strong position to exceed the WHO global targets by announcing 2040 as the date on which we expect to achieve elimination in Ireland.
“Today is an extraordinary day. No baby girl born today in Ireland will have to worry about cervical cancer. Thank you to all involved in the delivery of screening, vaccination and treatment services, to our passionate patient advocates and to all the partnership stakeholders.”
The projected target date of 2040 is the result of a detailed modelling project with Australian experts using HPV vaccination rates, screening coverage and population data from Ireland. Prof Karen Canfell, Cervical Cancer Director at the Daffodil Centre commended Ireland on our progress to date: “This is a milestone that you’re achieving today. It’s built on the back of the progress that’s been made in HPV vaccination and it’s roll-out in Ireland, as well as the move to primary HPV screening. It’s these two sets of interventions together, combined with your access to cancer treatment services, that will position Ireland to be on the path to cervical cancer elimination within 17 short years.”
The WHO defines elimination as fewer than 4 cases per 100,000 women, which would make cervical cancer rare. Ireland’s incidence of cervical cancer is currently 10.4 per 100,000. The WHO strategy sets out clear targets for all countries to achieve by 2030, to put them on course to elimination: HPV vaccination coverage (90%), cervical screening coverage (70%), and access to treatment (90%).
To reach our goal to eliminate cervical cancer in Ireland by 2040 we must all continue to work together to:
- increase HPV vaccination rates for girls by age 15 from 80% to 90% by 2030;
- maintain cervical screening coverage above 70% (currently at 73%); and
- maintain the number of women receiving treatment above 90% (currently at 97%).
WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, said today: “I congratulate Ireland on its great progress towards meeting WHO's cervical cancer elimination targets and setting itself firmly on the path to effective elimination.”
The patient voice
At the event, we heard from a panel of patient and public advocates and representatives, Kim Hanly, Lyn Fenton and Bernie Brennan, as they described their personal experiences of how cervical cancer has impacted them, the work they do to progress our goal of elimination, and why it matters to them.
Kim spoke about her lived experience of a cervical cancer diagnosis. “To see the progress that’s been made in eliminating this cruel disease is really something”, Kim said. “As a patient advocate and as a survivor of cervical cancer, it’s very close to my heart.”
Lyn, representing the advocacy group 221+, said they will continue to advocate for women’s health and to ensure patients voices have a seat at the table of health committees and groups. Lyn encouraged women to speak up when they have health concerns. “'We want women to feel empowered to take care of their health. We will work to continue to build up trust and confidence in vaccination, screening and early treatment.”
Bernie Brennan, mother of the late Laura Brennan, highlighted the importance of everyone having access to the HPV vaccine, particularly people in communities that we do not always reach. “The HPV vaccine saves lives”, Bernie said.
In the second panel, we heard from our clinical leaders in vaccination, screening, treatment and public health.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Director, National Immunisation Office spoke about the recently published research showing the positive impact of the HPV vaccine on cervical disease in Ireland, and how they have been working to improve participation in the Laura Brennan Catch-up vaccination programme in partnership with third-level colleges and migrant groups.
Prof Noírín Russell, Clinical Director with CervicalCheck explained the importance of the programme moving to primary HPV screening and its significance for elimination. “Over 90% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV and screening is a test for HPV first.” Prof Russell importantly highlighted that not all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. “There is no screening test for women who have non HPV-related cervical cancer,” she said, and spoke about how vital it is that women are aware of the symptoms of cervical cancer and how education is central to this to ensure rapid access to treatment.
Dr Heather Burns, National Cancer Control Programme, highlighted the positive trends in cancer diagnosis and treatment in Ireland - incidence is reducing, mortality is reducing, and survivorship is increasing. Speaking about the WHO elimination targets, Dr Burns said: “The 97% cervical cancer treatment rate in Ireland is very encouraging.”
Dr Caroline Mason Mohan, Director of Public Health, National Screening Service, told us about new research exploring attitudes to HPV self-sampling as a method of testing for HPV. Funded by the Women’s Health Fund, preliminary findings from the research show that women who are under-screened or who have never attended screening are willing to consider using self-sampling. “Introducing this option for women could help us move towards elimination,” Dr Mason Mohan said, “if it increases the number of people getting screened.”
Be part of it
A new roadmap has been published charting Ireland’s next steps to elimination. The Cervical Cancer Elimination Partnership will be developing a national action plan which will start with a public consultation in 2024. Everyone is invited to get involved in this consultation - to be part of eliminating cervical cancer in Ireland. We want to work in partnership with more organisations and more people to address inequities and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access and choose vaccination, screening and treatment services. Everyone should benefit from elimination. Sign up today to be part of the consultation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
In the driving seat
There’s a role for everyone in making cervical cancer elimination a reality - to support our vaccination, screening and treatment services and to encourage participation. For the first time ever, it is possible to eliminate a cancer. In Ireland, the date has been set. We know the cause of most cervical cancers - HPV. We have everything we need to prevent it – a vaccination, cervical screening, and access to timely treatment for those who need it. We’re in the driving seat. We do not want women to die of this cancer that is largely preventable.
If we all play our part, the children of today can grow up in an Ireland where cervical cancer is rare.
- For more information visit www.hse.ie/cervicalcancerelimination and view the press release.
- The HSE’s Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy Group is comprised of the Department of Health, HSE’s National Screening Service, National Immunisation Office, and National Cancer Control Programme, National Women and Infants Health Programme, National Cancer Registry of Ireland, patient advocates, Marie Keating Foundation and Irish Cancer Society.