Australia on track to eliminate cervical cancer by 2035

Screening and vaccination programmes mean that disease will be soon classed as rare

(Image credit: Geoff Caddick/Getty Images)

Cervical cancer could be all but wiped out in Australia within the next 20 years, according to new research into the success of the country’s prevention programme.

A study led by Cancer Council NSW published in medical journal The Lancet found that, if uptake of screenings and vaccinations continues at its current rate, cervical cancer will be considered a rare form of cancer within four years.

A rare cancer is one which affects six or fewer people per 100,000. Currently, the incidence of cervical cancer in Australia is around seven cases per 100,000 women.

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For comparison, Cancer Research UK recorded 9.5 diagnoses of cervical cancer per 100,000 women in the UK during 2015, “making it the 14th most common cancer in the country for females”, says CNN.

The report estimates that Australian doctors will diagnose four or fewer new cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women by 2035, at which rate the disease would be “considered to be eliminated as a public health problem”.

Death from the cervical cancer is also on course to decrease to less than 0.15 cases per 100,000 women each year, equating to fewer than three deaths per one million women.

The country’s success in tackling the disease can be traced it its early adoption and consistent application of prevention techniques.

Australia introduced nationwide cervical cancer screenings for women in 1991. Over the following decades, “cervical cancer rates in women dropped about 50%, as abnormalities were identified before they developed”, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

A more sophisticated new screening test introduced last year, which looks for early warning traces of HPV rather than signs of developing cancer itself, looks set to continue to improve prevention.

In 2007, Australia led the way again by becoming the first country in the world to offer schoolgirls free vaccines against human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus linked to the vast majority of cases of cervical cancer. The vaccination programme has since been expanded to include boys.

Professor Karen Canfell, director of research at Cancer Council NSW, said the findings represented “such exciting news for women across Australia”.

“We’ve been leading the way in cervical cancer control for many years and we’ll be sharing our research and approaches with the rest of the world as part of a global push to eliminate this highly preventable cancer,” she said.

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