Australia set to eradicate cervical cancer within two decades

Canberra launched a school immunisation programme for the Gardasil vaccine in 2007

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 5:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 5:32pm

Australia looks set to become the first country in the world to wipe out cervical cancer, thanks to national vaccination and screening programmes which could see the disease effectively eliminated as a public health issue within 20 years.

New research published in The Lancet Public Health forecasts the disease will soon be a rarity in Australia, with fewer than six new cases per 100,000 women by 2022, and fewer than four new cases per 100,000 women by 2035.

In 2007, Australia launched a national publicly-funded school immunisation programme for the Gardasil vaccine to tackle the human papillomavirus (HPV).

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Vaccination rates in Australia are at 79 per cent for girls at age 15 and 73 per cent for boys.

There’s been a 50 per cent reduction in cervical cancer cases in Australia since the introduction of the Pap smear in 1991.

“If high-coverage vaccination and screening is maintained … cervical cancer could be considered to be eliminated as a public health problem in Australia within the next 20 years,” the researchers from the Australian Cancer Council wrote in the article.

“However, screening and vaccination initiatives would need to be maintained thereafter to maintain very low cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates.”

Cervical cancer claims the lives of 250,000 women worldwide each year.

The World Health Organisation says cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women, with an estimated 570,000 new cases globally in 2018.

Ian Frazer, the immunologist who co-invented the Gardasil vaccine, said he was delighted Australia is on a fast track to victory over the disease.

“It wasn’t something that I expected would happen quite that quickly,” he said.

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“It makes me feel very proud that the research community can deliver the goods when it’s asked and can make a real difference in terms of world health.”

He said one of the biggest challenges to eliminating cervical cancer globally was securing funding to roll out a vaccination programme across developing countries.

Australia moved to a new five-yearly HPV cervical screening test for women aged 25-74 last year, which replaced a two-yearly Pap smear test. The new test looks for the presence of HPV, the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers, and it is expected to cut cases and deaths by at least 20 per cent.