Aust on track to eliminate cervical cancer


The incidence of the virus responsible for most cervical cancers has reduced thanks to vaccination.
The incidence of the virus responsible for most cervical cancers has reduced thanks to vaccination.

Australia is on track to become the first country to eliminate cervical cancer, a study has found.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal on Monday, analysed the first two years of results from the national screening program for human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer.

It showed the program picked up 546 cancers during that time, including 90 that would not have been detected by a pap test.

At the same time, the incidence of two strains of the virus responsible for causing the majority of cervical cancers has reduced significantly, thanks to a vaccination program introduced in 2007.

“Our findings are a clear indication that the renewed cervical screening program and the HPV vaccination program are working,” lead researcher and study author Associate Professor Megan Smith said.

“This data shows Australia is well on track to become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer.” 

The screening program, put in place in December 2017, provides five-yearly tests for HPV for women aged 25 and over and replaces two-yearly pap tests.

More than 3.7 million women were screened over the first two years of the program, which is expected to reduce cancer incidence and mortality by at least 20 per cent over the long term.

Women aged 25-40 are the first to be vaccinated against HPV and participate in cervical screening – and the data shows the main cancer-causing HPV strains are now relatively rare in this age group.

“These women are the first to participate in cervical screening who would have also been offered HPV vaccination when they were younger,” Prof Smith said.

The HPV jab is also an Australian success story – Gardasil was developed by University of Queensland researcher Professor Ian Frazer and his colleague, the late Dr Jian Zhou, and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2006.

Around eight out of 10 women will become infected with genital HPV during their lives, but only a few types of the virus result in cancer.

From July 2022, women will be able collect their own cervical screening samples, and Associate Professor Smith says this will mean even more women can participate in the program.

Research for the study was carried out by the Daffodil Centre at the Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney.