Mon, Mar 05, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Australia could be first to eradicate cervical cancer

The Guardian

Australia could become the first country to eradicate cervical cancer, according to an announcement from the International Papillomavirus Society.

New research, published yesterday, reveals that Australia’s free human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine program in schools has led to a dramatic decline in future cervical cancer rates.

Within 40 years, the number of new cases is projected to drop to “just a few,” said professor Suzanne Garland, who led the research.

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that causes 99.9 percent of cervical cancers. In 2007, the federal government began providing the vaccine for free to girls aged 12 to 13, and in 2013, it extended the program to boys.

Girls and boys outside those ages but under 19 can also access two doses of the vaccine for free. In 2016, 78.6 percent of 15-year-old girls and 72.9 percent of 15-year-old boys were vaccinated.

As a result, the HPV rate among women aged 18 to 24 dropped from 22.7 percent to 1.1 percent between 2005 and 2015.

Immunization rates have risen further since 2015, Garland said, adding that high coverage was creating a herd protection effect.

“You’re getting herd protection in males, just from the female program,” she said. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Professor Ian Frazer, the co-inventor of the vaccine, said that older women who had never been immunized should also remember to be screened regularly.

The government in December introduced a more advanced screening test that could eradicate cervical cancer even sooner, Frazer said.

“As long as we continue the screenings, we will continue to pick up those with the virus already, and as long as we keep up the vaccination, we could have no new cases in 10 to 20 years,” he said.

“Only 50 to 60 percent of women participate regularly in the screening program,” he said. “If that was 100 percent we would have no cervical cancer in this country even without the vaccine.”

Australia introduced a national cervical screening program in 1991, which involved a Pap smear test every two years. This was replaced in December with a more advanced test that can detect high-risk HPV infections before cancer develops.

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

Despite Australia’s success, Garland’s report found that cervical cancer rates were still high in the developing world.

Frazer said the challenge was a lack of existing vaccination programs for young girls aged 12 to 14, the optimal time for the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“It will be a challenge to get rid of cervical cancer globally,” he said. “But the tools are there to do it.”

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