Australian researchers lead efforts to reduce cervical cancer

20 October 2017 | Cancer Council NSW

National Health and Medical Research Council  (NHMRC) awards multimillion dollar grant to group of cervical cancer prevention experts led by Cancer Council and Victorian Cytology Service.

Authors: Adjunct Professor Karen CanfellAssociate Professor Marion Saville and Associate Professor Julia Brotherton

Cervical Cancer Cell

Australia has led the world in cervical cancer prevention for decades, both in vaccination and screening. We were the first country in the world to implement a national HPV vaccination program and, in the decade since its introduction, there has already been a significant reduction in the number of young women with high-grade cervical abnormalities. Australia’s National Cervical Screening Program came into place in 1991 and has since halved cervical cancer rates. This December, Australia is poised to implement a renewed, even better screening program, tailored to a HPV vaccinated population.

Being the world leader puts Australia in a unique position – the world will look to us as a model for a new era for cervical cancer control globally.


Optimising cervical cancer prevention in the era of HPV vaccination

To support Australia’s leading position as we enter this new era, the National Health and Medical Research Council has awarded a group of Australian cervical cancer prevention experts – led by Cancer Council NSW and the Victorian Cytology Service (VCS Ltd.) – $2.5 million over the next five years to set up a Centre for Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control.

The group will draw together research and evaluation of the HPV vaccination and screening programs to develop crucial evidence about these new approaches and their impact on cervical cancer and HPV infection rates in Australia.

For example, we already know that the renewed screening program will lower cervical cancer rates and deaths by at least 20% – but how will the next-generation HPV vaccine play into this?

Together, the group of researchers from Cancer Council NSW, the VCS Ltd., the University of Melbourne and the Kirby Institute have expertise across epidemiology, public health, clinical trial implementation, predictive modelling and economic evaluation. Their program of work will focus on:

  • Cervical screening – evaluating the effectiveness of next generation primary HPV screening approaches
  • HPV methods – developing better tools for monitoring HPV and for predicting abnormalities in the presence of HPV
  • HPV vaccination – assessing the impact of the HPV vaccination program
  • Global aspects of cervical cancer prevention.

Australia’s largest clinical trial, Compass, will provide crucial evidence on cervical screening. The study, being conducted by VCS Ltd. in collaboration with Cancer Council NSW, compares 2.5-yearly Pap smear screening with 5- yearly HPV screening. Researchers will evaluate the new screening approach in real-time as the new National Cervical Screening Program is rolled out.

Recent results from the first phase of the study found that compared to Pap tests, HPV screening provides significantly increased detection of high-grade cervical abnormalities.

Australia has the best cervical cancer prevention program in the world. The new national screening program, combined with the introduction of a next-generation HPV vaccine in 2018, will help save even more lives. The work of the Centre for Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control will ensure the model for cervical cancer prevention is underpinned by world-class research and can inform approaches around the work to reduce the global impact of the disease.


Adjunct Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Cancer Research at Cancer Council NSW,  is a Principal Investigator on the Compass trial, in conjunction with Associate Professor Marion Saville, Executive Director at VCS and Associate Professor Julia Brotherton, Medical Director of Registries and Research at VCS.

Find out more about the new cervical screening program.

Find out more about the Compass trial at

Watch a videoed Q&A session about the new cervical screening program with Senior Researcher, Megan Smith.