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Teenage girl receiving injection of Gardasil HPV vaccination.

Teenage girl receiving injection of Gardasil HPV vaccination.
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How the HPV vaccine is eliminating cervical cancer in Australia

Blog post | 13 Feb 2023

Australia is set to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem, with a study published in the medical journal The Lancet finding it could happen as early as 2028.

Globally in 2020, there were 600,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 340,000 deaths.

Almost every case of cervical cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). Immunising people against HPV before they’re sexually active is an effective way to prevent cervical cancer.

Another study, which looked into Australia’s free HPV immunisation program, found that rates of HPV have fallen dramatically.

The HPV vaccine is working

Lead by Professor Suzanne Garland from the Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, and published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the study evaluated the program which started vaccinating females aged 12 to 13 in 2007. Catch-up vaccinations of 14- to 26-year-olds followed in 2009. In 2013, the program was extended to males aged 12 to 13.

Among females aged 18 to 24, the rate of HPV infection dropped from 22.7% to just 1.5% by 2015. Recent research has also shown a decline in HPV among males.

If you missed out on the free immunisation program, don’t worry. Anyone under 26 years can get the vaccine for free from their local immunisation provider or doctor. If you’re 26 years or over, you can pay to get the HPV vaccine from your doctor or a local immunisation service.

Those who are immunocompromised will get 3 doses of the HPV vaccine. Everyone else will get 1 dose of the HPV vaccine.

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Cervical screening is still important

Despite advances with the HPV vaccine, it's still essential that you get cervical screening. Getting the Cervical Screening Test (also known as the HPV test) is crucial in helping to eliminate cervical cancer in Australia, stresses Professor Garland. The Cervical Screening Test, done every 5 years, has replaced the Pap smear, which has been done every 2 years.

While the Pap smear tested for precancerous cells on the cervix, the Cervical Screening Test detects HPV, which leads to the cell changes on the cervix that can cause cervical cancer. It looks and feels the same as a Pap test, but the Cervical Screening Test is more accurate and only needs to be done every 5 years.

If you’re aged between 25 and 74, you have a cervix and you have ever been sexually active, you should have a Cervical Screening Test. If you’ve ever had a Pap test, your first Cervical Screening Test should be 2 years after your last Pap test.

If you’re 25 years or older and have never had a Pap test before, you should make an appointment with your doctor to have a Cervical Screening Test.

"Our national HPV immunisation program for both boys and girls, combined with our cervical cancer population screening, means we are well positioned to be the first country to effectively end this deadly cancer," says Professor Garland.

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This post was originally published on 8 March 2018 and has been updated to include the most recent details on this topic.

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