Background information about cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus which is the most important aetiological agent in the development of cervical cancer and pre-cancer. HPV is also implicated in other cancers, including head and neck cancer, vulval, penile and anal cancer. Certain HPV sub-types are linked with cervical cancer and pre-cancer. In particular HPV 16 and 18 are known to cause 70% of all cervical cancers as well as cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and throat.

Vaccines are available to help prevent infection by certain types of HPV and some of the cancers linked to those types: Gardasil®, Gardasil 9®, and Cervarix®. All of these vaccines help prevent infection by HPV-16 and HPV-18.

In addition, HPV testing now plays an important role in cervical cancer prevention in both vaccinated and non-vaccinated women.

Cervical cancer prevention strategies in Ireland and elsewhere over the past decade have been evolving to adapt to these changes. For example, in Ireland, a HPV school based vaccination programme was introduced in 2010. Moreover, the national cervical screening programme, CervicalCheck, have adopted HPV testing into its cervical screening protocols. Changes to screening protocols [HPV testing] and practices [HPV vaccination], raise several challenges for cervical screening programmes.

For the past number of years CERVIVA has been focusing its research efforts on addressing some of the key national and international health service and population health challenges in relation to cervical cancer. Our multi-disciplinary research programme encompasses: identifying optimal strategies for HPV/ biomarker testing for the management of women with low-grade disease in colposcopy; assessing cost-effectiveness of different options for incorporating HPV-testing into cervical screening in Ireland; and quantifying, and understanding the drivers of, adverse psychosocial effects of colposcopy and related procedures on women. Recently, the consortium has extended its scope into other HPV-associated cancers, and is generating the first data on HPV prevalence and associations between HPV status and outcome, in HNSCCs in Ireland.