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How common is cervical cancer in Australia?

In Australia, there are just over 900 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed annually.  The Cancer Council reports the risk of a woman being diagnosed by age 85 years is 1 in 162.

In Queensland, about 200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. It’s most common in women over 30, although it can occur at any age. 

Cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed more frequently than invasive, late-stage cervical cancer. The five year survival rate for overall—across all stages—is 74%.

The number of cases of cervical cancer has considerably decreased in Australia since the National Cervical Screening Program commenced in 1991 and a national Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine program was introduced in 2007. 

Around the world

Cervical cancer is not common in Australia, however in low and middle income countries, this disease is still a mass killer due to limited access to screening and vaccination programs. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer and the fourth most common cancer among women, with an estimated 604,000 new cases and 342,000 deaths reported in 2020.

Cervical Cancer Fast Facts

Cervical Cancer written next to a stethoscopeDid you know?

  • The majority of cervical cancers (more than 95%) are due to HPV.
  • Many sexually active people may be infected with HPV in their lifetime, but more than 90% of those infected eventually clear the infection.
  • Chemicals in tobacco can damage the cells of the cervix, resulting in higher risk of this cancer in those who smoke.
  • It can take 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in the cervix. For those with weakened immune systems it may be quicker (5 to 10 years), such as those with untreated HIV infection.
  • Women with HIV are 6 times more likely to develop cervical cancer compared to women without HIV. The high prevalence of HIV is one the reasons why cervical cancer incidence is so high in low income countries (e.g., Africa).
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are twice as likely to be diagnosed than non-indigenous Australians.
  • Since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program, cervical cancer mortality rates have halved.
  • Cervical cancer is entirely curable if diagnosed at an early stage and treated swiftly.

Cervical cancer symptoms

Screening programs aim to diagnose cancer before symptoms are noticeable. Often in its early and precancerous stages, there are no apparent symptoms which is why regular screening is important.

When cervical cancer spreads and is advanced, cervical cancer can cause symptoms that may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding between periods (spotting)
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or longer than usual
  • Pain during or bleeding after intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pain when urinating.

The future of cervical cancer

Research from Cancer Council shows Australia is on track to become the first country in the world to eliminate this cancer by successfully implementing a combined approach to vaccination and screening, including the recent rollout for women to use self-collection kits at home if certain criteria are met.

Australian targets have been set for cervical cancer to become classified as a rare disease by 2035. The target is set for when rates drop to fewer than 4 new cases per 100,000 people. Currently the most recent data shows cervical cancer incidence was 6.3 new cases per 100,000 people.

To achieve this target, screening and vaccination programs would need to be maintained.

Information sourced from World Health Organisation.

Find more information on the Cervical Cancer Page.

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