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Cervical cancer – role of vaccines against human papilloma virus (HPV)

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For women in the EU aged 15-44, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer after breast cancer. Countries with cervical cancer screening programs have substantially reduced cervical cancer incidence and deaths, but it remains a major cause of death for women in the EU.

Cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of human papilloma virus (HPV). In different studies, HPV was detected in more than 90% of cervical cancers.

EU authorisation – two HPV vaccines

With the green light from the scientific committee of the European Medicines Agency, the EU has authorised the marketing of two HPV vaccines:

These vaccines prevent infections with the two main strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

EU collaboration platform and expert group

EU countries exchange information on HPV immunisation and other activities relating to HPV using the VENICE (Vaccine European New Integrated Collaboration Effort) platform. The EU Commission acts as facilitator/coordinator.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control funds the platform and has set up an expert group to look into introducing HPV vaccination in EU countries. The expert group's 2008 report focused on:

  • scientific evaluation of the HPV vaccine
  • cervical cancer screening programs
  • target populations
  • delivery strategies
  • cost issues
  • monitoring and evaluation
  • future research priorities

Cancer screening

HPV vaccines do not give 100% protection against cervical cancer

HPV types covered by the vaccines account for some 70% of cervical cancers in women worldwide. In addition, no vaccine is 100% effective.

HPV vaccination is not a replacement for routine cervical screening

Authorities are recommended to carry out organised population-wide cervical screening by smear test before introducing HPV vaccination. This screening should take account of the European guidelines for quality assurance in cervical cancer screening and diagnosis

See EU recommendation