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Today is World Cancer Day. In her first blog as our Chief Executive, Rebecca Shoosmith discusses our vision: a world without cervical cancer.
Talking about cancer is something we are often encouraged to do. With 1 in 2 of us facing this experience, it is a word that is often spoken, often feared. Talking to reduce stigma, to help prevent it, to help reduce isolation are all things you might have heard. But what about going one step further: talking about eliminating a cancer?
Cervical cancer is one cancer which could realistically be made a cancer of the past. This has long been our vision at Jo’s and we are delighted to see this goal at the heart of the World Cancer Day campaign this year.
Over 800 lives will be lost to cervical cancer today worldwide – 2 of those will be in the UK – and many, many more will face a diagnosis, with invasive, difficult treatments and side effects which can last a lifetime.
Cervical cancer, like Covid-19, is an illness which is fuelled by inequality, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in lower-income countries. It has been incredible to see the world taking notice of the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer. Never before has cervical cancer been in the spotlight on such global scale and in the UK we must take this opportunity to encourage action, to share learnings and to inspire progress.
The impact that Covid-19 has had on the world is stark, and against this backdrop, access to cervical screening and HPV vaccination has been severely disrupted in the UK and beyond. Health systems and services have been overburdened and the fear of virus transmission has added to the many challenges in accessing these vital services. Those who faced additional physical, psychological and cultural factors impacting their ability and intention to attend screening are no closer to getting tested, this includes those affected by sexual violence, living with a physical disability and women from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
The pandemic has impacted our plans and strategy at Jo’s. We dropped everything to ensure the charity would survive, and we were able to support and raise the voice of those affected by cervical cancer and cell changes. But our plans remain ambitious – to ensure that every woman and person with a cervix understands how they can reduce their risk of cancer; that everyone affected by cervical cell changes and cancer receives the right support at the right time; and to champion best practice and consistency in delivery across all aspects of cervical cancer through our outreach and policy work.
Our strategy focuses on how best we can deliver key health messages and support. We work to empower, to support informed choice and to advocate for our community.
It may be tempting to look at the healthcare landscape and think that there is only one priority right now. However across the world one diagnosis of cervical cancer happens every minute, and many of these could be prevented with the right systems, programmes and support in place. So the time to act is now. If we do nothing, The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) estimates that cervical cancer deaths will almost certainly rise a further 50% by 2030.
We have marvelled at the incredible speed with which the NHS has adapted to the current health crisis. It able to adapt and respond at speed, and we need to see this level of innovation directed towards the cervical screening programme. For this to happen, it needs far better resourcing and support, and this is something that must become reality.
One such key advancement is the introduction of self-sampling, which would allow many groups greater access to screening without needing to access the service outside of the home. This will get us far closer to elimination in the UK, and we urge the UK government to commit to building the evidence base and getting us closer to implementing this important tool in the fight against cervical cancer.
This World Cancer Day, #IAmAndIWill continue to commit to taking action to reach our goal of eliminating cervical cancer. We are energised that the world is joining us and won’t stop until cervical cancer is a thing of the past. Will you join us?