Looking ahead to the elimination of cervical cancer

Professor Karen Canfell

Professor Karen Canfell

Cancer Council NSWFunding duration: 2013 - 2018

The World Health Organization has called for coordinated action to eliminate cervical cancer globally. Our researchers are providing crucial evidence to support prevention strategies both in Australia and around the world.


Australia has been at the forefront of cervical cancer prevention for decades, and continues to take the lead – having led the world in successful implementation of HPV vaccination, we are now one of the first nations in the world to implement large-scale changes to cervical screening. Australia renewed its National Cervical Screening Program in December 2017, transitioning to a new program that tests for HPV, the human papillomavirus – a virus that causes almost all cervical cancers.

Researchers at Cancer Council NSW played a big role in informing these changes, confirming that they are safe, and that they will provide even better outcomes for Australian women. Since then the team has continued to lead efforts to support cervical cancer prevention, in Australia and around the world.

The research

Our researchers have evaluated both the short-term transitional effects and long-term implications of the renewed program. They discovered that switching to HPV screening is expected to avert over 2,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer between 2018 and 2035, saving 587 women’s lives. They also found that in the first few years of the new program, the number of new cases of cervical cancer will rise. This is because the improved test leads to earlier detection.

The team also reported on initial findings from Australia’s largest ever clinical trial, Compass. Results show HPV testing is more effective at detecting high-grade abnormalities than the Pap test. This was the first real-life demonstration of how HPV screening in HPV-vaccinated women can work in practice.

In another study, the team predicted HPV screening and vaccination should also decrease a woman’s lifetime risk of cervical surgery, compared to the previous Pap test. As a result, they predict pregnancy complications that can arise from such surgery will decrease.

The impact

Beyond Australia, our researchers are working with collaborators in New Zealand, USA, China, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea on optimising cervical cancer prevention around the world. For example our researchers directly informed policy in New Zealand around the appropriate age to start cervical screening.

This research reinforces the importance of the continued support and commitment to cervical cancer prevention through the HPV screening and vaccination program. It also provides further reassurance that the new cervical screening program will be a significant and timely step in Australia’s journey towards completely eliminating cervical cancer. Australia’s experience also demonstrates the potential to eliminate one of the world’s major cancers in women globally.

Lead ResearcherResearch Team

Professor Karen Canfell
Cancer Council NSW

Dr Megan Smith
Dr Kate Simms
Dr Jie-Bin Lew
Michaela Hall
Chloe Jennett
James Killen
Leanne Rumlee
Dr Louiza Velentzis
Jessica Darligton-Brown
Dr Michael Caruana
Suzanne Hughes
Harriet Hui
Susan Yuill

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