January is the month to reflect about cervical cancer and what it means to women with this disease. The bad news is that cervical cancer is the 2nd most common type of cancer in women worldwide. 12,000 women are diagnosed each year in the US alone and 4,000 will die. The good news is that it is a largely preventable type of cancer. Deaths from this type of cancer have been on the decline in the US by about 2% over the past years. Prevention is realized through screening (Pap test) and vaccination programs. In fact, most women with abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a Pap test or skipped screening for 3-5 years.
Because cervical cancer can be prevented through effective screening and vaccination programs, the research focus has been on prevention rather than on new therapeutic options. Recently, the only breakthrough therapy that has led to approval was anti-angiogenic therapy in combination with chemotherapy for the treatment of persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer approved by the FDA in 2014 and by the EMA in 2015.
The majority of all carcinoma of the cervix is caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), which is found in 99% of cervical cancer. But HPV can also cause transformation of other tissues and cause cancer of the head & neck, vulva, anus and penis. HPV is estimated to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US.
This is why everybody (!), men and women, should be regularly tested for HPV positivity and everybody should also be vaccinated against HPV infection.