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Australia could become the first country to eliminate cervical cancer

Australia could become one of the first countries to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue due to the national vaccination and screening programs.

New research predicts cervical cancer will soon be a rare disease in Australia, with fewer than six new cases per 100,000 women by 2022, and fewer than four new cases per 100,000 women by 2035, a potential elimination threshold. Australia's current annual cervical cancer rate stands at seven cases per 100,000 people, one of the lowest in the world.

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Cervical cancer is caused by ‘high-risk’ types of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. The national vaccination program was launched in 2007 to prevent the cancer-causing HPV. The program was later expanded in 2013 to teenage boys who can carry and transmit the virus and develop other types of cancer. In 2016, vaccination rates in Australia were 79% for girls and 73% for boys at 15 years of age. Cancer Council Australia reports the vaccination has led to a 77% reduction in the types of HPV most responsible for cervical cancer.

The cervical cancer screening program was introduced to Australia in 1991 which has seen a 50% reduction in cervical cancer cases in women 25 years of age and older. Last year, Australia replaced the pap smear examination with more sensitive HPV cervical screening tests. Researchers have estimated that the new test, conducted every five years, will reduce cancer rates by at least 20%.

However, for cervical cancer to be a “rare cancer” and reach the potential elimination threshold screening and vaccination rates would need to be maintained to see the forecasted low incidence and mortality rates. If this happens we could see cervical cancer cases eliminated as a public health problem within the next 20 years.

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