Background: Cervical cancer trends in a given country mainly depend on the existence of effective screening programmes and time changes in disease risk factors, notably exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV). Screening primarily influences variations by period of diagnosis, whereas changes in risk factors chiefly manifest themselves as variations in risk across successive birth cohorts of women.
Methods: We assessed trends in cervical cancer across 38 countries in five continents, age group 30-74 years, using age-standardised incidence rates (ASRs) and age-period-cohort (APC) models. Non-identifiability in APC models was circumvented by making assumptions based on a consistent relationship between age and cervical cancer incidence (i.e. approximately constant rates after age 45 years).
Findings: ASRs decreased in several countries, except in most of Eastern European populations, Thailand as well as Uganda, although the direction and magnitude of period and birth cohort effects varied substantially. Strong downward trends in cervical cancer risk by period were found in the highest-income countries, whereas no clear changes by period were found in lower-resourced settings. Successive generations of women born after 1940 or 1950 exhibited either an increase in risk of cervical cancer (in most European countries, Japan, China), no substantial changes (North America and Australia) or a decrease (Ecuador and India).
Interpretation: In countries where effective screening has been in place for a long time the consequences of underlying increases in cohort-specific risk were largely avoided. In the absence of screening, cohort-led increases or, stable, cervical cancer ASRs were observed. Our study underscores the importance of strengthening screening efforts and augmenting existing cancer control efforts with HPV vaccination, notably in those countries where unfavourable cohort effects are continuing or emerging.
Funding: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
Keywords: Age-period-cohort models; Cervical cancer; Impact of screening; Incidence trends.
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