Research from Cancer Council NSW shows Australia is on track to become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem.
There are predicted to be about 950 new diagnoses and 250 deaths from cervical cancer in Australia for 2019. Since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program in 1991, cervical cancer mortality rates have halved.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are responsible for virtually all cases of cervical cancer. HPV are very common sexually transmitted viruses of which there are many types.
Australia transitioned to a five-yearly HPV cervical screening test for those aged 25-74 from 2017, replacing the old two-yearly Pap test previously offered from ages 18-69 years. The new test looks 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%. 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.
This study has shown that if vaccination and screening coverage are maintained at their current rates, cervical cancer is likely to be eliminated as a public health issue in Australia by 2035.
The researchers expect that cervical cancer rates will drop to less than 6 in 100,000 by 2022 – meaning that it will soon be considered a rare cancer. Rates will continue to drop further, dropping below 4 in 100,000 and the associated mortality will fall below 1 per 100,000 women by around 2035. These findings indicate that Australia is on-track to be the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer by successfully implementing a combined approach to vaccination and screening.
This research shows that Australia continues to lead the way in cervical cancer control.
Continued participation in the National Cervical Screening Program, as well as vaccination of girls and boys against HPV through the national HPV immunisation program, is vital to ensure that elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem is achieved.
In 2018, the World Health Organization called for coordinated action to eliminate cervical cancer globally. Sharing research and approaches with the rest of the world will contribute to a global push to eliminate this highly preventable cancer.
Michaela Hall Dr Kate Simms
Dr Jie-Bin Lew
Dr Megan Smith
Dr Julia Brotherton
Associate Professor Marion Saville
Professor Ian Frazer
Professor Karen Canfell (pictured)