Amber Lowther had surgery for abnormal cells after a pap smear gave her early detection. Picture: Renae Droop
Amber Lowther had surgery for abnormal cells after a pap smear gave her early detection. Picture: Renae Droop

Deadly cancer to be wiped out

WOMEN won't have to worry about cervical cancer within 20 years.

Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer by 2035.

New research from Cancer Council NSW has shown that if vaccination and screening coverage levels are maintained rates of diagnosis will drop.

The research predicts that cervical cancer rates will drop to less than six in 100,000 by 2022, meaning that it will soon be considered a rare cancer.

Rates will continue to drop to below four in 100,000 by 2035.

Professor Karen Canfell, director of research at Cancer Council NSW, said the World Health Organisation recently called for action to eliminate cervical cancer.

This will involve increasing global vaccination rates against HPV and cervical screening efforts, which will ultimately reduce mortality from cervical cancer.

Although the definition of cervical cancer elimination has not yet been set by the WHO, the potential threshold considered in the new research was an incidence of below four in 100,000.

"This is such exciting news for women across Australia," Professor Canfell said.

"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."

Australia moved to a new five-yearly HPV cervical screening test for women aged 25-74 from last year, 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 per cent.

But Professor Canfell stressed in order to achieve elimination it was vital that women continued to take part in the National Cervical Screening Program and that girls and boys were vaccinated against HPV through the national HPV immunisation program.

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.

"Those who have previously had the Pap test should have their next cervical screening test two years after their last Pap test, after which point they can move to five-yearly screening," Professor Canfell said.

For women like Brisbane resident Amber Lowther it means she will be able to check for HPV with the new test, after finding high-grade abnormal cells during the old test.

"The fact my cells went from low grade to high grade in just 12 months makes me wonder what could have happened in just a few years," she told the Southern Star.

The new research on cervical cancer elimination is just some of the new research being presented at the International Papillomavirus Virus Conference in Sydney this week.

Professor Ian Frazer, who co-invented the HPV vaccine and co-authored the new study, said delegates from other countries were eager to learn from the public health successes Australia had achieved.

"We have taken major steps forward with HPV vaccination," he said.

Silvia de Sanjose, president of the International Papillomavirus Society, said Australia had been at the forefront of HPV research, from key innovations in immunology and vaccine development through to the implementation of large scale vaccination initiatives and the transition to HPV-based cervical screening.

"We will be paying special attention to the challenges of building on the Australian success in HPV control, in populations that are most vulnerable to HPV disease worldwide, including indigenous communities and those in low and middle income countries," she said.

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