Australia Is Aiming to Eliminate Cervical Cancer Within the Next 7 Years

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The World Health Organisation hopes to eliminate cervical cancer within the next 70 years. Health authorities in Australia want to do the same, but in just seven short years! About 850 people in Australia are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, with those over 30 the most commonly diagnosed.

According to the Australian Financial Review, Australia’s health authorities have a strategy in place to eliminate cervical cancer and it seems to be on track to meet the 2028 goal. So how are authorities here managing to meet such a goal when the World Health Organisation seemingly can’t?

As the AFR reports, when authorities say eliminate in this context, it means setting a benchmark of less than four cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 people. In comparison, some developing countries experience more than 70 cases per 100,000 people.

There are a number of barriers that make it difficult to wipe out this cancer completely, as it’s caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is not only a silent disease and hard to diagnose but it’s also sexually transmitted. But, thanks to a number of steps taken by health authorities in Australia, including introducing screening in the 1960s, we are on the way to reducing the number of people it affects.

In fact, thanks to mass screening efforts introduced in 1991, which saw women screened for cervical cancer every two years, rates of cervical cancer almost halved within the decade. The invention of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, in 2006 also pushed Australia’s elimination efforts forward.

According to AFR, Australia became the first country to roll out the HPV vaccination program in 2007. Gardasil protects against the strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.

In 2017, officials also changed how the protocol around pap smears. Instead of scraping off cells from the cervix to see if they were abnormal, the test would look for the presence of HPV within the cells and allows the virus to be picked up in women aged from 15 to their early 70s.

“It’s important for women and their doctors to know an HPV-positive test result does not mean a woman will necessarily develop invasive cervical cancer, ” Professor Karen Canfell, director of the Daffodil Centre, told AFR. “It will, however, allow appropriate increased testing and surveillance to manage her risk.

“In the pre-vaccination era, HPV was commonly acquired by young men and women. But it is only progressing and persisting HPV infection, in a few people, that actually develops into invasive cancer.”

The final step in this mission came in 2018, when Australia made the new and improved HPV vaccine available as it offers much more protection — protecting against nine strains, of which seven commonly cause 90 percent of cervical cancers.

Authorities are now on a mission to “identify and close gaps” in HPV vaccinations to help eradicate this form of cancer. According to Canfell, Australia has one of the best rates of survival after diagnosis of cervical cancer, thanks to our screening and treatment programs.

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