Cervical cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. It is the fourth leading cause of deaths due to cancer in women. The death toll is greatest in populations that lack cervical cancer screening programmes.
Every year 530,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 270,000 die from this disease.
Cervical Cancer is the third most common cancer in women worldwide and 90% of cases are found in low and middle income countries
If early changes in cervical cells are detected through screening programmes, cervical cancer is curable. However, if undetected until late in its clinical course, it has a high death rate.
Cervical cancer develops slowly and is strongly linked to HPV infection, HPV is found in 99% of cervical cancer cases. Pre-cancerous cervical cells may not cause symptoms and by the time symptoms become apparent, it is often too late for treatment – particularly in resource-poor environments.
Progression of HPV infection to cancer is slow, generally taking more than 10 years. Although invasive cancer is most commonly seen in women aged over 45 years, the precursor changes are detectable much earlier.
Variation in incidence with age
In a study of international incidence rates prior to the introduction of cervical screening, the first onset of cervical cancer occurred at approximately 25 years of age in most populations.
European countries generally showed an earlier peak age (mean peak age, 46 years) and a more rapid decline after the peak than non-European countries (mean peak age, 59 years).
However, the overall shape of the age-specific incidence curve suggests a similar development of invasive cervical cancer within different populations. Because cervical cancer affects relatively young women in their prime of life, it is an important cause of lost life-years in developing countries. Cervical cancer makes the largest contribution to lost life-years from cancer in South-Central Asia.
Cervical cancer is most prevalent, and causes more deaths, in countries with poor access to health resources compared to more fortunate countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, that have an abundance of health resources. Approximately 90% of the 270,000 deaths from cervical cancer globally could be reduced through prevention, early detection, and effective screening programmes.
For example, in China and India, Cervical Cancer is the second most common cancer in women. In India, 123,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and 67,500 die from this disease. In China, 100,700 women are diagnosed with, and 37,400 women die from cervical cancer each year.
The economic costs of cervical cancer consist of both medical costs and costs associated with lost productivity due to premature death. The annual direct medical costs associated with cervical cancer have been estimated at US$300–400 million in the USA. In a recent study designed to determine the costs of lost productivity in the USA due to cervical cancer, it was estimated that 130,377 women would have been alive in 2000 had they not died from cervical cancer. Of these women, 75% died before age 60 and 25% before age 40. With 29% of these women expected to have been working during 2000, the productivity loss due to cervical cancer mortality was estimated at US$1.3 billion in that year.