While the number of young women diagnosed with cervical cancer is set to plummet, the complete opposite could happen in older women.
After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the most common type diagnosed in women across the globe, with approximately 500,000 cases each year and half of those dying as a result.
Now, new research into how the disease will affect future generations has returned some startling predictions that show amazing promise, but unfortunately not for older women.
According to research published in The Lancet by a team from Queen Mary University of London, a new predictive model estimates that by 2040, the incidence of cervical cancer in young women will decline 75pc, with the number of deaths almost nil.
The model incorporates the impact that increased cervical screening coverage, human papillomavirus (HPV) primary screening and the 9-valent HPV vaccine could have.
By combining three layers of monitoring, the team said, the model is made very flexible and can take into account how year of birth affects risk of cervical cancer throughout a woman’s life.
Screening attendance in decline
However, women aged between 50 and 64 will likely see a 62pc increase in diagnoses, resulting in a 143pc rise in mortality from 183 in 2015 to 449 in 2040.
Additionally, incidence among women aged between 60 and 64 will increase by 54pc, with mortality rates to climb by 109pc.
The biggest issue, based on current data, is that – in England at least – screening attendance is declining year on year, having fallen 3.4pc in England since 2012.
If it is to decline to 66pc (currently 72pc) among 60-64-year-olds alone, incidence will increase by 71pc and mortality could rise by 128pc.
A wake-up call
“This study shows how the age-specific incidence of cervical cancer will change over the next 20 years,” said one of the researchers, Dr Alejandra Castanon.
“Women currently aged between 25 and 40 will remain at high risk of cervical cancer throughout their lives, whilst women younger than 25 will see their risk decrease by around 50pc. This has implications for the way we invest in and target screening,” she said.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which was involved with the research, did not hold back in the implications of the findings.
“This research should serve as a wake-up call and the need for action. Continued declining cervical screening attendance will cost lives at all ages and must not happen,” he said.
“We are faced with an ageing population and risk among older women rocketing; therefore, changes to the programme which could reduce this risk must be explored, including increasing the screening age from 64 and self-testing.”