We’re getting closer to eradicating cervical cancer – rates will halve by 2035

17 April 2018 | Adjunct Professor Karen Canfell

Australia women - cervical screening program_

A new study by Cancer Council NSW has found that Australia’s renewed cervical screening program, which came into place on 1 December 2017, will lead to dramatically lowered cervical cancer incidence and mortality in Australian women.

This work is part of an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control which involves collaboration between Cancer Council NSW, The Victorian Cytology Service, The Kirby Institute at UNSW and the University of Melbourne.

HPV screening has previously been estimated to lower cervical cancer incidence and mortality by at least 20% over the long term. This new study provides more detail on the impact over the intermediate term – the next 20 years – and also shows the combined effect with HPV vaccination.

Using a model of HPV vaccination, transmission, natural history and cervical screening, we simulated the transition from two-yearly Pap tests to five-yearly HPV tests in women aged 25-74.

Dramatic decrease in cases and deaths in the long-term

For cervical cancer incidence, our model predicts a decrease of 51% by 2035. Cervical cancer mortality rates are also predicted to fall in the long-term: the study predicts them to remain stable until about 2020, but then decline by 45% by 2035.

Even more specifically, we found that between now and 2035, switching to HPV screening is expected to avert over 2,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer, saving 587 women’s lives.

Short-term effects: a testament to the quality of the test

The short-term impacts of the new program haven’t been looked at closely so far – something that we tackled with this study. We found that because of the increased sensitivity and accuracy of HPV testing, rates are initially expected to increase slightly: in the first two to three years after the program switch, cervical cancer rates could appear to increase by up to 15%.

However, this is no cause for concern – the short-term rates simply reflect that we’re screening women with improved technology, which naturally results in increased and earlier detection and lets fewer cases go unnoticed.

Hope for a future without cervical cancer

Our new study provides further reassurance that the new cervical screening program is a significant and timely step in Australia’s journey towards completely eradicating cervical cancer.

To learn more about Australia’s cervical screening program, visit Cancer Council’s new website cervicalscreening.org.au. If you still have questions, you can call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and speak to a specially trained health professional for free.