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Australia set to 'eliminate' cervical cancer by 2028

Australia is set to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer, aid...

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 2:33 PM
Updated: Oct 3, 2018 2:33 PM

Australia is set to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer, aided by its national vaccination and screening programs, says a new study,

The country is on track to meet the threshold of four or less new cases per 100,000 women each year, effectively eliminating the cancer by 2028, finds the new study published Wednesday.

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The cancer could be classified as "rare" as early as 2022, meeting a threshold of six new cases per 100,000 and deaths due to the diseases are expected to decline to one new case per 100,000 women by 2034.

But this is all contingent on Australia's high vaccination coverage and screening being maintained, write the study authors.

"This is such exciting news for women across Australia," said professor Karen Canfell, director of research at Cancer Council NSW, whose organization led the study.

"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."

An estimated 99.7% of cervical cancer cases are caused by infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a group of viruses that spread though sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact around the genitals.

Australia was one of the first countries to introduce a national HPV vaccination program for girls in 2007, and it has since been extended to achieve high vaccination coverage across both sexes, according to the study. Its National Cervical Cancer Screening Program began in 1991.

In their new study, the researchers at Cancer Council NSW modeled data on HPV vaccination, natural history of the disease, and cervical screening to estimate the age-incidence of cervical cancer in Australia from 2015 to 2100.

Currently, Australia reports seven cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women, according to the study.

As well as eliminating the disease within 20 years, the data showed that the annual incidence of cervical cancer will decrease and remain at fewer than one case per 100,000 women if screening for HPV every five years continues and as long as people have been offered the vaccine.

"There are constant advancements in cervical cancer prevention and Australia has been ahead of the UK in adopting many of them, this means they are well and truly on the path to eliminating cervical cancer," said Robert Music, Chief Director of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust in the UK.

Music added that progress is also being seen in the UK. "Our research has shown that elimination is firmly on the horizon in the UK with deaths almost disappearing among vaccinated generations by 2040. We must not lose sight of this goal and should strive to increase uptake of the preventative vaccination and screening programmes, especially among non-vaccinated women where incidence is set to rise," he said.

The Cancer Research UK charity recorded 3,126 new cases per 100,000 women in the UK during 2015, making it the 14th most common cancer in the country for females.

For the same year the CDC reported 12,845 new cases of cervical cancer; for every 100,000 women eight were diagnosed with cervical cancer, making cervical cancer the 20th most common cancer in the US.

Australia's road to success

Australia was called the "global front runner in cervical cancer prevention" in the study. The country already has one of the lowest cases of cervical cancers and deaths due to the disease, according to the study.

After introducing its National Cervical Screening Program in 1991, the number of women, older than 25, being diagnosed with cervical cancer dropped by at least 50% by 2010, one study found.

Last year the country transitioned from a Pap cervical screening, that detects any changes in the cervix, every two years to a new HPV cervical test every five years for women ages 25 to 74. The new test can find cell abnormalities from HPV infections before these have surfaced and is expected to lower mortality and cervical cancer cases by 20% according to the study.

Ian Frazer, professor at the University of Queensland who co-authored the study said, "We have taken major steps forward with HPV vaccination, and with the introduction of the new screening program and now this new Cancer Council research predicts that we will be the first country in the world to achieve the elimination of cervical cancer."

Iacopo Baussano and Freddie Bray of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France stated in a comment that the study "is a clear example of how modeling can contribute to assessing national progress in cancer control."

"Access to models and high-quality data are key in enabling countries to plan and effectively monitor health problems generally, and in tailoring preventative actions that one day will lead to the global elimination of cervical cancer as a major public health problem."

Cervical cancer is diagnosed in more than half a million women yearly, and the disease kills a quarter of a million women, mostly in low and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. It is the fourth most common cancer in women in the world.

Earlier this year, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the global community to act against cervical cancer, one of the "most preventable forms of cancer as long as it is detected early and managed effectively."

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