Eliminating Cervical Cancer in Australia Within Reach

Enhanced cervical cancer screening and free HPV vaccinations lead to cancer rate decreases

girls walking happy

Australian health leaders believe they can become the first country to eradicate cervical cancer, according to an announcement from the International Papillomavirus Society.

Health officials in Australia are basing their forecast on the rapid declines in reported cervical cancer.

New research reveals that HPV infection rates among women 18 years of age decreased from 22.7 percent in 2005 to 1.1 percent in 2015.

These researchers have identified two reasons for this outstanding achievement.

The first is Australia’s free human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine program.

In 2007, the Australian government began providing the HPV vaccine for free to girls aged 12-13 years.

By 2016, 78.6 percent of 15-year old girls had been vaccinated.

And now, young women under 19 years of age can also access two doses of the HPV vaccine for free, paid by the Australian government. 

Secondarily, these researchers report that increasing cancer tests is a key factor in this reported decrease.

Australia introduced a national cervical screening program in 1991, which involved a pap test every two years.

But, 43% of Australian women were not having the recommended 2-yearly Pap tests, reports the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation.

This screening program was replaced in late 2017 with a more advanced test that can detect high-risk HPV infections before cancer develops.

Over the time period 2018–2035, switching to primary HPV screening is expected to avert 2,006 cases of invasive cervical cancer and save 587 lives in Australia.

The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate at detecting HPV and is a simple procedure to check the health of the cervix.

The Pap test looks for cell changes in the cervix, whereas the new Cervical Screening Test looks for the HPV which can lead to cell changes in the cervix.

Although the Cervical Screening Test will feel the same, it is more accurate at detecting the human papillomavirus.

Under this new program, women aged 25 to 74 are asked to take the test every five years.

The Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation reports over 930 Australian women are diagnosed with it every year. Thousands of Australian women are also affected by cervical abnormalities.

In the USA, there are two cervical cancer screening tests recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • The cervical cytology (Pap test) looks for precancerous and cancerous cells.
  • The high-risk HPV test looks for the DNA or RNA of the types of HPV virus (16 and 18) that can cause these cellular changes.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released cervical cancer screening recommendations with new screening intervals in March 2012.

There are two CDC screening Methods for Average-Risk Asymptomatic Women:

  • Age 21 to 29: Every 3 years with cytology (Pap testing), regardless of age of onset of sexual activity or other risk factors.
  • Age 30 to 65: Every 5 years with HPV co-test (Pap + HPV test) OR every 3 years with cytology.

Annual screening is not recommended by the CDC for average-risk women.

The IPVS Policy Committee participates in the development and maintenance of position statements on issues related to papillomaviruses and the development of prevention of their associated diseases.