Global estimates of incidence and mortality of cervical cancer in 2020: a baseline analysis of the WHO Global Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative

Lancet Glob Health. 2023 Feb;11(2):e197-e206. doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(22)00501-0. Epub 2022 Dec 14.


Background: Tracking progress and providing timely evidence is a fundamental step forward for countries to remain aligned with the targets set by WHO to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem (ie, to reduce the incidence of the disease below a threshold of 4 cases per 100 000 women-years). We aimed to assess the extent of global inequalities in cervical cancer incidence and mortality, based on The Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN) 2020 estimates, including geographical and socioeconomic development, and temporal aspects.

Methods: For this analysis, we used the GLOBOCAN 2020 database to estimate the age-specific and age-standardised incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer per 100 000 women-years for 185 countries or territories aggregated across the 20 UN-defined world regions, and by four-tier levels of the Human Development Index (HDI). Time trends (1988-2017) in incidence were extracted from the Cancer Incidence in Five Continents (CI5) plus database. Mortality estimates were obtained using the most recent national vital registration data from WHO.

Findings: Globally in 2020, there were an estimated 604 127 cervical cancer cases and 341 831 deaths, with a corresponding age-standardised incidence of 13·3 cases per 100 000 women-years (95% CI 13·3-13·3) and mortality rate of 7·2 deaths per 100 000 women-years (95% CI 7·2-7·3). Cervical cancer incidence ranged from 2·2 (1·9-2·4) in Iraq to 84·6 (74·8-94·3) in Eswatini. Mortality rates ranged from 1·0 (0·8-1·2) in Switzerland to 55·7 (47·7-63·7) in Eswatini. Age-standardised incidence was highest in Malawi (67·9 [95% CI 65·7 -70·1]) and Zambia (65·5 [63·0-67·9]) in Africa, Bolivia (36·6 [35·0-38·2]) and Paraguay (34·1 [32·1-36·1]) in Latin America, Maldives (24·5 [17·0-32·0]) and Indonesia (24·4 [24·2-24·7]) in Asia, and Fiji (29·8 [24·7-35·0]) and Papua New Guinea (29·2 [27·3-31·0]) in Melanesia. A clear socioeconomic gradient exists in cervical cancer, with decreasing rates as HDI increased. Incidence was three times higher in countries with low HDI than countries with very high HDI, whereas mortality rates were six times higher in low HDI countries versus very high HDI countries. In 2020 estimates, a general decline in incidence was observed in most countries of the world with representative trend data, with incidence becoming stable at relatively low levels around 2005 in several high-income countries. By contrast, in the same period incidence increased in some countries in eastern Africa and eastern Europe. We observed different patterns of age-specific incidence between countries with well developed population-based screening and treatment services (eg, Sweden, Australia, and the UK) and countries with insufficient and opportunistic services (eg, Colombia, India, and Uganda).

Interpretation: The burden of cervical cancer remains high in many parts of the world, and in most countries, the incidence and mortality of the disease remain much higher than the threshold set by the WHO initiative on cervical cancer elimination. We identified substantial geographical and socioeconomic inequalities in cervical cancer globally, with a clear gradient of increasing rates for countries with lower levels of human development. Our study provides timely evidence and impetus for future strategies that prioritise and accelerate progress towards the WHO elimination targets and, in so doing, address the marked variations in the global cervical cancer landscape today.

Funding: French Institut National du Cancer, Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation of the European Commission; and EU4Health Programme.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Malawi
  • Uganda
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • World Health Organization