SWITZERLAND – World Health Organization (WHO) and Human Reproduction Programme (HRP) have launched new guidelines to help countries make faster progress, more and equitably, on the screening and treatment of cancer.

The guidelines includes some important shifts in WHO’s recommended approaches to cervical screening, and includes a total of 23 recommendations and 7 good practice statements.

Among the 23 recommendations, 6 are identical for both the general population of women and for women living with HIV and 12 are different and specific for each population.

For the 7 good practice statements, 3 are identical for both the general population of women and for women living with HIV and 2 are different and specific for each population.

The new guidelines will guide public health sectors across the globe to invest in better diagnostic tools, stronger implementation processes and more acceptable options for screening to reach more women and save more lives.

For cervical screening in particular, it recommends an HPV DNA based test as the preferred method, rather than visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) or cytology (commonly known as a ‘Pap smear’), currently the most commonly used methods globally to detect pre-cancer lesions.

It further highlights that consideration of usage of self-sampling commodities will help in achieving the global strategy target of 70 % testing by 2030 because studies show more women are comfortable with taking their own sample.

The new guidelines come timely when the screening for breast and cervical cancer have declined by 87% and 84% respectively during 2020 compared to the previous five years according to Centers for Disease control and prevention (CDC).

Prolonged delays in screening related to the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to delayed diagnoses, poor health consequences, and an increase in cancer disparities among women already experiencing health inequities.

For a cervical cancer prevention and control programme to have impact, strengthening patient retention and ensuring rapid treatment of women who screen positive for HPV or cervical pre-cancer is a fundamental priority.

WHO is calling for all women to ensure they get regular cervical cancer screening tests in line with the recommendations of their local health authority.