Australia is on track to become the first country to eliminate cervical cancer, a study has found.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal on Monday, analyzed the results of the first two years of the national screening program for human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer.
It showed that the program detected 546 cancers during that time, including 90 that would not have been detected by a Pap test.
At the same time, the incidence of two strains of the virus responsible for the majority of cervical cancers has fallen significantly thanks to a vaccination program introduced in 2007.
“Our results clearly indicate that the renewed cervical screening program and the HPV vaccination program are working,” said lead researcher and study author Associate Professor Megan Smith.
“These data show that Australia is on track to become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer.”
The screening program, introduced in December 2017, provides five-year HPV tests for women aged 25 and over and replaces Pap tests every two years.
Over 3.7 million women have been screened in the first two years of the program, which is expected to reduce cancer incidence and mortality by at least 20% in the long term.
Women between the ages of 25 and 40 are the first to be vaccinated against HPV and participate in cervical screening – and data shows that the main cancer-causing strains of HPV are now relatively rare in this age group.
“These women are the first to take part in cervical screening who would also have been offered the HPV vaccination when they were younger,” Professor Smith said.
The HPV vaccine is also an Australian success story – Gardasil was developed by University of Queensland researcher Professor Ian Frazer and his colleague, the late Dr Jian Zhou, and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2006.
About eight out of 10 women will become infected with genital HPV in their lifetime, but only a few types of virus lead to cancer.
From July 2022, women will be able to collect their own cervical screening samples, and Associate Professor Smith says this will mean even more women will be able to take part in the scheme.
Research for the study was conducted by the Cancer Council NSW’s Daffodil Center and the University of Sydney.
Australian Associated Press