3 Oct 2018

Australia holds high hopes to eliminate HPV

8:10 pm on 3 October 2018

Australia is on track to become the first country in the world to all but eliminate cervical cancer.

HPV test tube.

An study in Australia predicts annual cases in the country would drop to four in 100,000 by 2035 - a potential elimination threshold. Photo: 123rf

The Australian Cancer Council said if vaccination and screening rates were maintained, the disease could be eradicated within 20 years.

New modelling by the Cancer Council of New South Wales, published in The Lancet Public Health Journal said cervical cancer was predicted to be a "rare cancer" in Australia by 2022, when it should drop to less than six cases per 100,000 people.

The study predicted that annual cases in Australia would drop to four in 100,000 by 2035 - a potential elimination threshold.

Scientists attributed the progress to national prevention programmes.

In 2007, Australia became one of the first countries to introduce a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination scheme for girls. The programme was later extended to boys.

It complemented a national screening programme that began in 1991.

Cervical cancer is caused by "high-risk" types of HPV, a sexually transmitted infection. It is the fourth-most frequent cancer in women and has a high mortality rate globally, according to the World Health Organisation.

Australia's current annual cervical cancer rate stood at seven cases per 100,000 people, which was about half the global average.

A researcher from Cancer Council NSW Dr Megan Smith said: "Regardless of what the [elimination] threshold is, it is likely Australia would be the first country to reach it given our current low rate of cervical cancer, and our strong prevention programmes".

Last year, Australia replaced its routine screening standards for the cancer - a pap smear examination - with more sensitive HPV cervical screening tests.

Researchers have estimated that the switch to the new test, conducted only every five years, would reduce cancer rates by at least 20 percent.

What is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?

  • HPV is the name given to a common group of viruses: There are more than 100 types of HPV.
  • Many women will be with infected with HPV over the course of their lifetime without any ill-effect.
  • In the vast majority of cases, there will be no symptoms and the infection will clear on its own, but in some cases persistent infection can lead to cervical disease.
  • Some types of HPV are high risk because they are linked to the development of some cancers.
  • Other lower risk HPV types can lead to genital warts.
  • Nearly all cervical cancers (99.7 percent) are caused by infection from a high risk HPV.
  • The HPV vaccine protects against four types of HPV which cause around 80 percent of cervical cancer and the vast majority of genital warts.


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