Professor Karen Canfell

Professor Karen Canfell

Director, Cancer Research Division

As Director of the Cancer Research Division, Karen is responsible for ensuring Cancer Council NSW conducts and funds world-class research that reduces the impact of cancer.

Research Summary

In addition to her Executive role, Karen leads the Pathways to a cancer free future (Pathways) research program at Cancer Council NSW. The Pathways program involves the evaluation and translation of new strategies for cancer control, providing policy-makers with an evidence base for decision-making in cancer control. Karen has led evaluations of new screening approaches for government agencies in several countries. She currently leads an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control (C4). Her team’s work underpins the Renewal of the National Cervical Screening Program in Australia, which transitioned to 5-yearly HPV-based screening from in 2017. In collaboration with the Victorian Cytology Service, Karen also initiated Compass, which is Australia’s largest clinical trial to assess cervical screening in an HPV-vaccinated population.

The Pathways program is now focusing on screening for other cancer types, including active projects to quantify the benefits, harms and cost-effectiveness of bowel and breast screening, evaluating screening for Lynch Syndrome, and assessing potential new strategies for PSA testing and lung cancer screening. 

Over the past five years, as CIA or PI/co-PI, Karen has been awarded $9.2M in NHMRC and other grants and contracts. 

Karen also chairs Cancer Council Australia’s Cancer Screening and Immunisation Committee and is a member of the Medical Services Advisory Committee’s PICO Advisory Sub-Committee (PASC), formerly known at the Protocol Advisory Sub-committee.


D.Phil. (PhD equivalent), University of Oxford.

Grants currently held


  • Career Development Fellowship- Evaluation of new screening strategies for prevention of cancer (ID 1082989)
  • Centre of Research Excellence – Centre for Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control (C4) (ID 1135172)
  • Large-scale data to understand person-centred outcomes in cancer survivors (ID 1139539)
  • HPV and oropharyngeal cancer in Indigenous Australians (ID 1120215) (Administered at University of Adelaide)
  • Identifying and addressing gaps in Australia’s adolescent HPV vaccination program (ID 1132344)
  • Point-of-care HPV-DNA testing for cervical cancer screening in high-burden, low-resource settings (ID 1104938)
  • Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of HPV Vaccination and HPV-Based Cervical Cancer Screening Strategies in China (ID 1109121)
  • Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of systematic screening for Lynch Syndrome (LS) in Australia (ID 1080246)


  • CISNET-Cervix program grant – US National Institutes of Health.

Academic Affiliations

Adjunct Professor, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney.

Awards and Honours

  • NHMRC National Research Excellence Award (2015)
  • 100 Women of Influence – Westpac/Australian Financial Review national awards (2015)

Current student supervision

  • Ellen Barlow (UNSW)– Vulvar cancer in Australia
  • Jie Bin Lew (UNSW)– Effectiveness and economic evaluation of colorectal cancer screening in Australia
  • Diep Ngoc Nguyen (UNSW) – Cost effectiveness of HPV prevention and development of recommendations for the optimal delivery of HPV vaccination and cervical screening in Vietnam
  • Dr Emily He (UNSW) – Surveillance of serrated colorectal lesions
  • Peter Sarich (University of Sydney) – Alcohol consumption and cancer incidence and mortality in Australia: prospective cohort analysis of the New South Wales 45 and Up Study.

Key publications (last 12 months)

  1. Simms KT, Steinberg J, Caruana M, Smith MA, Lew JB, Soerjomataram I, Castle PE, Bray F, Canfell K. Impact of scaled up human papillomavirus vaccination and cervical screening and the potential for global elimination of cervical cancer in 181 countries, 2020–99: a modelling study. The Lancet Oncology. 2019 Feb 19. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(18)30836-2.
  2. Hall MT, Simms KT, Lew JB, Smith MA, Saville M, Canfell K. Projected future impact of HPV vaccination and primary HPV screening on cervical cancer rates from 2017-2035: Example from Australia. PLoS One. 2018 Feb 14;13(2):0185332. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185332. eCollection 2018.
  3. Lew JB, James D, St John B, Macrae FA, Emery JD, Ee HC, Jenkins MA, He E, Grogan P, Caruana M, Sarfati D, Je Greuter M, Mh Coupé V, Canfell K. Evaluation of the benefits, harms and cost-effectiveness of potential alternatives to iFOBT testing for colorectal cancer screening in Australia. Int J Cancer. 2018 Feb 14. doi: 10.1002/ijc.31314.
  4. Velentzis LS, Caruana M, Simms KT, Lew JB, Shi JF, Saville M, Smith MA, Lord SJ, Tan J, Bateson D, Quinn M, Canfell K. How will transitioning from cytology to HPV testing change the balance between the benefits and harms of cervical cancer screening? Estimates of the impact on cervical cancer, treatment rates and adverse obstetric outcomes in Australia, a high vaccination coverage country. Int J Cancer. 2017 Dec 15;141(12):2410-2422. doi: 10.1002/ijc.30926
  5. Weber MF, Yap S, Goldsbury D, Manners D, Tammemagi M, Marshall H, Brims F, McWilliams A, Fong K, Kang YJ, Caruana M, Banks E, Canfell K. Identifying high risk individuals for targeted lung cancer screening: independent validation of the PLCO. Int J Cancer. 2017 Jul 15;141(2):242-253. doi: 10.1002/ijc.30673
  6. Lew JB, St John DJB, Xu XM, Greuter MJE, Caruana M, Cenin DR, He E, Saville M, Grogan P, Coupé VMH, Canfell K. Long-term evaluation of benefits, harms, and cost-effectiveness of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in Australia: a modelling study. Lancet Public Health 2017 June doi:10.1016/ S2468-2667(17)30105-6

More publications by Prof Karen Canfell

Research publications