science 21.1.2019 7:00

Slovenia successful in fighting cervical cancer

Ljubljana, 21 January - Slovenia has led a successful campaign against cervical cancer and the disease's incidence has been halved since the Zora screening programme was introduced in 2003.

Presenting the statistics ahead of the European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, health officials said that today Slovenia had one of the lowest rates of the disease in Europe.

About 120 Slovenian women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer and between 40 and 50 die. Last year, 82 new cases were recorded, show statistics presented.

Urška Ivanuš from the Ljubljana Oncology Institute, who heads Zora, attributed part of the programme's success to women's trust.

More than 70% of women aged between 20 and 64 regularly take part in the screenings, Ivanuš told the press conference in Ljubljana on Friday.

Treatment is very successful when cervical cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, she said.

It is mainly the women who do not turn out for screenings who get ill. In 80% of such patients, cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment is less efficient.

Women over 50 take part in the screening programmes in insufficient numbers, so Ivanuš urged them to continue to take care of their reproductive health.

When taking regular check-ups, women run 70-80% lesser risk of getting cervical cancer.

The risk of the disease is even lesser in women who have been vaccinated against a human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.

Leon Meglič from the UKC Ljubljana Gynaecology Clinic said that vaccination was the best prevention against diseases caused by HPV infections.

Since 2009 HPV vaccination is available for girls as part of systematic health examinations for 6th primary class children with the costs covered from the mandatory health insurance.

About half of the parents decide against having their daughters vaccinated, but there are differences between the regions from about 80% vaccination rate in Ravne na Koroškem to 36% in Ljubljana.

Meglič said that vaccination reduced the likelihood of pre-cancer changes caused by the virus on the cervix by 80%.

The experts present at the press conference found that HPV vaccination and the screening programme could prevent almost every new case of this type of cancer in the country.

The National Public Health Institute is working on a proposal to expand the vaccination programme to boys, hopefully as early as next year.