Romania has the highest incidence of cervical cancer in Europe and a mortality rate from this disease three times higher than the European average.
Every day, 9 Romanian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer
Half of the cases discovered in Romania are in women up to 50 years old
Romania has the highest incidence of cervical cancer in Europe. The mortality rate from this disease is three times higher than the European average. According to the data of the European Cancer Information System (ECIS), in 2022, in Romania, 3368 new cases of cervical cancer were registered, which means that for every 13 newly diagnosed cases of cancer in women in our country, one is cervical cancer.
“The frequency of cervical cancer is particularly high in many countries in Eastern Europe, including Romania, due to the lack of preventive actions, reduced access to screening, lack of information and collaboration between various sectors. It is essential to prioritize this issue to reduce the devastating impact of cervical cancer on women in our country, when we have such a simple solution at hand: the HPV vaccine. Solving this problem will require particularly sustained efforts from the authorities, medical staff, NGOs and the community as a whole,” declares Dr. Delia Nicolară, public health expert, Oncological Institute “Prof. Dr. Ion Chiricută” Cluj-Napoca (IOCN).
This situation highlights the need to intensify anti-HPV vaccination efforts, given that vaccination can prevent the occurrence of this type of cancer. At the same time, European statistics show us that 1,793 Romanian women lost their lives due to cervical cancer in 2022, although women's participation in periodic testing and screening for cervical cancer could detect the disease in its early stages when the treatment applied is one with curative intent.
The importance of prioritizing anti-HPV vaccination to combat cervical cancer in Romania
Chronic infection with certain types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is responsible for 99% of new cases of cervical cancer, but it also causes a very large proportion of cancers in women and/or men that are located at the level of the anus and genital organs (penis, vagina or vulva) or in the ENT area (oropharyngeal cancers).
Other types of HPV, which are also sexually transmitted, do not have the ability to generate cancer, but can lead to the appearance of genital warts (papillomas). An individual's risk of developing an HPV infection during their lifetime is very high, as it is practically the most common and widespread sexually transmitted viral infection.
Specialists have estimated that 8 out of 10 adults will be infected with at least one strain of HPV at least once in their lifetime, the risk of infection being all the greater as this infection, usually asymptomatic, is more widespread among a population. In some European countries, including Romania, the prevalence of HPV infections that can lead to cancer is relatively high, about 15% of women being asymptomatic carriers of HPV infection.
Expanding access to anti-HPV vaccination in Romania
Anti-HPV vaccination is, therefore, a very important public health measure to ensure and protect the population at risk against HPV infection and, implicitly, the prevention of cervical cancer or other diseases caused by this virus.
Romania is making efforts to ensure the widest possible access of the population to this primary prevention solution:
· For teenagers, girls and boys, who fall into the age group of 11-18 years, the vaccination is available free of charge through the family doctor, at the request of the parents/legal representatives.
In addition, from December 2023, women between the ages of 19 and 45 can benefit from HPV immunization in a 50% compensated regime, i.e. paying half the cost of the vaccine for which a compensated prescription was issued by the family doctor, the gynecologist or a doctor of another specialty.
The effectiveness of the HPV vaccine is confirmed by examples such as Australia, where cervical cancer is expected to be eliminated as a major public health problem within the next 11 years due to an extensive and effective vaccination program.
In addition, a study recently published by Public Health Scotland confirms the effectiveness of HPV vaccination, showing no cases of cervical cancer among women vaccinated with the full schedule at 12 and 13 years of age as part of the national HPV immunization program . In Scotland, nine out of 10 girls (aged 12 and 13) have been vaccinated against HPV since 2008 when HPV vaccination was introduced
The importance of screening and early diagnosis in the prevention of cervical cancer
There is no cure for HPV, but the slow progression from initial infection to the development of cervical cancer, which usually takes 10 years or more, allows early diagnosis of cervical lesions.
It is essential that women take advantage of free access to screening programs to detect any abnormalities in time. Screening involves periodic testing, at regular intervals, of all women in the age group at risk to detect possible precancerous lesions.
According to international recommendations, HPV or Babeş Pap tests, in the screening regime, allow the detection of precancerous lesions or cervical cancer in early stages that are treatable with the therapeutic means offered by contemporary medicine.
Treating injuries as early as possible helps reduce the number of premature and avoidable deaths among women. As part of the regional screening program implemented in the period 2018-2023 in the Northwest and West Regions, the Oncological Institute in Cluj Napoca tested about 80,000 women, of which 7,000 were discovered with cervical lesions, and 3,550 of them were confirmed oncological disease. Broader coverage of the eligible female population with screening services is lifesaving in the medium to short term.
Advances and innovations in cervical cancer prevention: IOCN efforts in the North West and West Region
IOCN is also involved in the SUNRISE project – “Sustainable interventions and healthy behaviors for the primary prevention of adolescent cancer using digital tools“(Sustainable interventions and healthy behavIours for adolescent primary prevention of cancer with digital tools – SUNRISE).
Oncological Institute “Prof. Dr. Ion Chiricuța”, Cluj-Napoca was founded in 1929 under the name of the Institute for Cancer Prevention and is one of the first specialized medical centers in Europe at a time when the notion of prevention was vaguely defined.
In 2024, 95 years after its founding, IOCN continues its active involvement in prevention through the SUNRISE project, which will create and implement an innovative digital-enhanced prevention skills program for primary cancer prevention through sustainable behavior change adolescent health, adapted to their socio-economic, cultural and environmental diversity, with a visible impact on society in general.
The project also aims to increase the level of knowledge regarding HPV infection and associated cancers among young people in Cluj Napoca. At the local level, the initiative is also implemented with the support of MSD Romania.
More information about the benefits of anti-HPV vaccination is available on the https://protejeaza-tedehpv.ro/ platform.