Professor Karen Canfell

Director, The Daffodil Centre

Professor Karen Canfell is the inaugural Director of The Daffodil Centre, a joint initiative between Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney.


Karen Canfell D.Phil. FAHMS is the inaugural Director of the Daffodil Centre and is a Professor within the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney. She is Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, an NHMRC Leadership Fellow, and holds a D.Phil (PhD) in epidemiology from the University of Oxford. She is an epidemiologist, modeller and translationally-focused population health researcher, and her research program focuses on providing policy-makers with an evidence-base for decision making across the cancer control continuum. Karen is a past keynote speaker at the World Cancer Conference and World Cancer Leader’s Summit, a past NHMRC national research excellence award-winner, and the 2021 recipient of Cancer Australia’s Jeanne Ferris Award for her contributions to gynecological cancer research.

Karen has led multiple impact and economic evaluations for government agencies in Australia and internationally. For example, her team’s work underpins the transformation of the National Cervical Screening Program in Australia, which in 2017 moved to HPV DNA testing to replace Pap smears. In collaboration with the VCS Foundation, she initiated Compass, Australia’s largest clinical trial (76,000 women), and the first trial internationally to assess cervical screening in an HPV-vaccinated population, directly supporting the implementation of new cervical screening program, acting as a sentinel experience for safety monitoring and evaluation. Professor Canfell currently leads an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control (C4) which together Australia’s leaders in cervical cancer control, in both HPV vaccination and cervical screening, and includes researchers from Cancer Council NSW, the VCS Foundation, the Kirby Institute (UNSW), and the University of Melbourne.

Karen is active in global health and as one of the co-leads of the WHO Cervical Cancer Elimination Consortium (CCEMC), has led the development of the WHO impact and cost-effectiveness case for cervical cancer elimination. This work was presented at the Executive Board of the World Health Assembly in 2020 and is cited in the WHO strategic plan for elimination, and her team is now supporting the WHO in the development of updated 2021 clinical guidelines for cervical screening. In March 2021, with key C4 collaborators including Prof Marion Saville, Prof Andrew Valley and Adjunct Prof Deborah Bateson, the C4 and Minderoo Foundation announced the Eliminate Cervical Cancer in the Western Pacific (ECCWP) initiative – this is a large-scale implementation and research collaboration arising from C4 research, foundationally supported by an $8.1M grant from the Minderoo foundation.

Drawing on a strategic, multidisciplinary approach – using modelling, linked data analysis, clinical trials, stakeholder engagement, and implementation science – that has successfully influenced cervical cancer prevention policy in Australia and internationally, Karen has established a broader research program, including research across a range of tumour sites, to provide policymakers with an evidence-base for decision making in cancer control. For example, her team’s work supported screening and modelling for 2017 revisions to the National Clinical Management Guidelines for Colorectal Cancer. She also leads a major $3.6M MRFF program of work (‘Cancer-PPP’) to predict cancer incidence and prevalence in Australia. In response to the emerging healthcare needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she initiated and co-leads the COVID-19 and Cancer Global Modelling Consortium (CCGMC), is a collaborative endeavour to model the global impact of the pandemic on cancer prevention/risk, screening, and outcomes. Key partners of the CCGMC include the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), The International Cancer Screening Network (ICSN), the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) and The Daffodil Centre.

Karen chairs Cancer Council Australia’s Cancer Screening and Immunisation Committee. She serves as a member of the board for the International Papillomavirus Society, and the Asia Oceania Research Organisation on Genital Infections and Neoplasia (AOGIN) and is past Board member of the International Papillomavirus Society. She co-chaired the Executive Scientific Committee for IPVC 2018 in Sydney, the major international meeting in papillomavirus research.


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

Grants currently held

  • Realising the World Health Organisation targets for elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem: Effective implementation and scale-up of HPV vaccination and cervical screening in Australia, regionally, and globally. NHMRC Investigator Grant (Leadership Fellow)
  • Modelling five-years patterns in cancer incidence, staging and related health services. MRFF Targeted Health System and Community Organisation Research Grant.
  • Centre of Research Excellence – Centre for Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control (C4) (ID 1135172)
  • CISNET-Cervix program grant – US National Institutes of Health
  • Career Development Fellowship- Evaluation of new screening strategies for prevention of cancer (ID 1082989)
  • Piloting a model of universal self-collection for cervical cancer screening in primary care in Victoria: The solution to a decade of declining participation, and to longstanding inequity? Victorian Cancer Agency, Prevention and Screening Research (CIA Prof Margaret Keleher).
  • A national risk-stratified melanoma screening program in Australia: a modelling study of the benefits, harms, cost-effectiveness and resource implications. NHMRC Project Grant (CIA Prof Anne Cust).
  • Centre for Research Excellence on value-based payments in cancer care. NHMRC CRE (CIA Prof Kees van Gool).
  • Large-scale data to understand person-centred outcomes in cancer survivors. NHMRC Project Grant (CIA Prof Emily Banks).
  • Centre for Research Excellence in the accelerated implementation of new point-of-care technology for infectious diseases. NHMRC CRE (CIA Prof Rebecca Guy).
  • Hide and seek with hereditary cancer: improving detection of colorectal cancer patients with a high risk of Lynch syndrome. Cancer Australia Project Grant (CIA A/Prof Natalie Taylor).
  • HPV and oropharyngeal cancer in Indigenous Australians. NHMRC Project Grant (CIA Prof Lisa Jameison).
  • Identifying and addressing gaps in Australia’s adolescent HPV vaccination program. NHMRC Partnership grant (CIA Prof Rebecca Guy).

Academic Affiliations

Professor, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney.

Awards and Honours

  • Jeanne Ferris Cancer Australia Recognition Award for contributions to gynecological cancer research (2021)
  • NHMRC National Research Excellence Award (2015)
  • 100 Women of Influence – Westpac/Australian Financial Review national awards (2015)

Current student supervision

  • Maximising benefits and minimizing harms in obstetric outcomes with HPV prevention, Susan Yuill

Key publications (last 12 months)

Sarich, P., Canfell, K., Egger, S., Banks, E., Joshy, G., Grogan, P., Weber, M. (2021). Alcohol consumption, drinking patterns and cancer incidence in an Australian cohort of 226,162 participants aged 45 years and over. British Journal of Cancer, 124(2), 513-523.

Smith, M., Hall, M., Saville, M., Brotherton, J., Simms, K., Lew, J., Bateson, D., Skinner, R., Kelaher, M., Canfell, K. (2021). Could HPV testing on self-collected samples be routinely used in an organized cervical screening program? A modeled analysis. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 30(2), 268-277

Worthington, J., Feletto, E., Lew, A., Broun, K., Durkin, S., Wakefield, M., Grogan, P., Harper, T., Canfell, K. (2020). Evaluating health benefits and cost-effectiveness of a mass-media campaign for improving participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in AustraliaPublic Health, 179, 90-99.

Goldsbury, D., Weber, M., Yap, S., Rankin, N., Ngo, P., Veerman, J., Banks, E., Canfell, K., O’Connell, D. (2020). Health services costs for lung cancer care in Australia: Estimates from the 45 and Up Study. PloS One, 15(8), 1-19.

Canfell, K., Kim, J., Brisson, M., Keane, A., Simms, K., Caruana, M., Burger, E., Martin, D., Nguyen, D., Benard, E., Smith, M., et al (2020). Mortality impact of achieving WHO cervical cancer elimination targets: a comparative modelling analysis in 78 low-income and lower-middle-income countries. The Lancet, 395(10224), 591-603.

More publications by Prof Karen Canfell

Research publications