Cervical cancer is unique among common cancers: it has a single, known cause – the human papillomavirus (HPV) – and highly effective screening and prevention tools have the potential to virtually eliminate deaths from the disease.
In fact, widespread use of the Pap test to detect early cervical "pre-cancers" has helped to reduce U.S. cervical cancer death rates by nearly 70 percent since the 1950s. The more recent introduction of tests to detect HPV and vaccines to prevent HPV infection hold promise to reduce deaths even further.
Despite these remarkable advances, nearly 12,000 American women are still diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, primarily because they do not receive routine screening and follow-up care. Worldwide, the burden is far worse: some 250,000 women die from the disease annually, most of them in low-resource countries where access to preventive vaccines, screening and treatment are limited. Increasing access to these services remains a top global health priority.
While screening and vaccination remain the first lines of defense, researchers are also working to improve treatments for women diagnosed with cervical cancer. In particular, new therapies are urgently needed to prevent recurrence and eliminate cancer that remains after tumors are surgically removed or treated with radiation.