Australia could be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer, with other countries to follow, reports the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS).
Cervical cancer kills 250,000 women globally every year - or, one woman every 2 minutes.
Almost every case of cervical cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). Immunising girls (and boys) against HPV before they are sexually active is a very effective way to prevent cervical cancer.
The IPVS’s announcement comes as a 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 boys aged 12 to 13.
Among women 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.
“We are forecasting that over the next 30 to 40 years, rates of cervical cancer will drop from around the current 930 cases a year in Australia to just a few,” says Professor Garland.
If you or your child missed out on the free immunisation program, don’t worry. Girls and boys up to the age of 19 are entitled to 2 doses of the vaccine for free from their local immunisation provider or doctor. Those aged 15 or older at the time of their first vaccination require 3 doses for the best protection.
If you are aged 20 or over, you can pay to get the HPV vaccine from your doctor or local immunisation provider.
Cervical screening is still important
Despite advances with the HPV vaccine, it is still essential that women also participate in cervical screening. Getting the new 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 new 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 it’s far more accurate and only needs to be done every 5 years.
If you’re aged 25 to 74 and have ever been sexually active, you should have a Cervical Screening Test. This includes people vaccinated and unvaccinated for HPV as well as people who identify as lesbian or transgender. If you’ve ever had a Pap test, your first Cervical Screening Test should be two years after your last Pap test.
If you’re turning 25, or are over age 25 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.
Need more information?
For more information about the Cervical Screening Test and the HPV vaccine, talk to your doctor or visit the National Cervical Screening Program. You can also learn more about the HPV vaccine via the Cancer Council.
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