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28 Feb 2019

A new study by Cancer Council NSW, in partnership with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has found that cervical cancer has potential to be eliminated as a public health problem by the end of the century in most countries globally. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide and the leading cause of cancer death in some of the world’s poorest countries, for example those in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new research found that achieving widespread global coverage of both human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and cervical screening, from 2020 onwards, could potentially prevent up to 13.4 million cases by 2070 and has potential to achieve world-wide elimination of cervical cancer in most countries by 2100.

This news follows last year’s announcement that Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer as a health problem, due to the success of the HPV vaccination program and the 2017 changes to the National Cervical Screening Program. If vaccination and screening coverage are maintained at their current rates, this target is set to be reached by 2035 in Australian women. 

Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Research at Cancer Council NSW said: “Our research follows on from the recent call-to-action towards cervical cancer elimination by the World Health Organisation. We have shown what might be possible in terms of the lives that could be saved. This is the kind of news that every cancer researcher lives for.

“It’s incredibly exciting for women all over the world. However, we are only in the early stages of the push towards elimination, as implementation efforts towards achieving global scale-up of vaccination and screening have just begun.”

The research provides the first estimates of the potential timeline to cervical cancer elimination by quantifying the impact of two key steps: the rapid dispatch and administration of HPV vaccinations to 80-100 per cent of the world’s population of young girls and effective delivery of twice-per-lifetime HPV-based screening in all less-developed countries, with a 70 per cent coverage rate. If high coverage vaccination and screening can be scaled up together, this will avert a cumulative 12.5 to 13.4 million cervical cancer cases over the next 50 years and will see average cervical cancer rates decline below what could be considered as elimination thresholds, less than four cases per 100,000 people, by the end of the century.

“Just over 30 per cent of young females in developed countries have received the HPV vaccine. When you consider that this figure dips below three per cent in less-developed regions, you can see just how far we have to go. If we don’t act now, over the next 50 years, 44.4 million cervical cancer cases are predicted to occur. Given that 85 per cent of cervical cancers occur in less-developed regions, these countries must be our first priority for implementation of high coverage cervical screening and HPV vaccination programs,” Professor Canfell said.

“While I’m so proud that Australia is leading the way towards cervical cancer being eliminated as a public health problem, it’s vital that we don’t grow complacent. Women must continue to participate in the National Cervical Screening Program and girls and boys must all be vaccinated against HPV through the national HPV immunisation program, if we want to achieve national and global elimination of cervical cancer.”

Published: 28 Feb 2019