Australia is on track to be the first country to eradicate cervical cancer with new research suggesting the life-threatening disease could be completely eliminated as a public health issue within two decades.
The breakthrough data presented by Cancer Council NSW predicts cervical cancer rates will continue to drop to less than six in 100,000 by 2022 and less than four in 100,000 by 2035 – meaning it will soon be considered a rare for of cancer.
This is an exciting moment for researchers who have been working to improve the rate of cervical cancer survivors for many years through the implementation of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination program.
At the forefront of HPV research, the country made its first major move last year when it transitioned to a new five-yearly HPV cervical screening test for those aged 25 to 74. The new tests, which replaced the old two-yearly pap test, look for the presence of HPV, the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers, and is expected to lower cervical cancer cases and mortality by at least 20 per cent.
Speaking about the groundbreaking achievement, Cancer Council NSW director of research, professor Karen Canfell said it’s an exciting time for women across Australia, especially following the World Health Organisation’s recent call for action to eliminate cervical cancer.
“We’ve been leading the way in cervical cancer control for many years and we’ll be sharing our research and approaches with the rest of the world as part of a global push to eliminate this highly preventable cancer,” she explained.
To achieve elimination, Canfell said it is vital that women continue to participate in the National Cervical Screening Program and that girls and boys are vaccinated against HPV through the national HPV immunisation program.
“Under the new screening program, women should have their first screening test at age 25 and then every five years, if no high risk HPV is detected,” she said. “Those who have previously had the pap test should have their next cervical screening test two years after their last pap test, after which point they can move to five-yearly screening.”
The new research on cervical cancer elimination is just some of the exciting news being presented at the International Papillomavirus meeting this week in Sydney. Researchers from across the world will gather in the Australian city to hear the latest insights in the control of HPV related cancers and learn from the public health successes.
According to International Papillomavirus Society president Silvia de Sanjose this is just the beginning for researchers in Australia.
“We will be paying special attention to the challenges of building on the Australian success in HPV control, in populations that are most vulnerable to HPV disease worldwide, including indigenous communities and those in low and middle income countries,” he explained.