Australia on track to eradicate cervical cancer

Mr David Wrede, Gynaecologist and Head of the Women’s Dysplasia Clinic, with Sophie Bittinger, Anatomical Pathologist.
8 November 2021 | Cancer

Cervical cancer is considered one of the world’s most preventable cancers, and the Royal Women’s Hospital continues to play a leading role in eradicating it.

With around 70 cases of cervical cancer treated annually at the Women’s, and 900 cases diagnosed nationally each year, the hospital will continue to see a decline in cases, especially among younger women.

Prevention has been a huge part of the story, with the Gardasil vaccines seeing enormous success in reducing transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) – the cause of up to 90 per cent of cervical cancers in women. In addition, screening has improved nationally with the phasing out of Pap smears and the introduction of 5-yearly screening with a much more sensitive test for HPV.

Gynaecologist and Head of the Women’s Dysplasia Clinic Mr David Wrede, said the Women’s was a key player in the fight against cervical cancer, and pioneering in areas of treatment, prevention and research.

"The Women’s is the biggest dysplasia service in Australia. We truly are leaders in cervical cancer treatment and research, and proudly part of the prevention and eradication of this cancer," Mr Wrede said.

“You can see a time in Australia, in the not too distant future, where women who’ve been vaccinated in school will have two or three cervical cancer screenings in their lifetime, and that may be all that’s required. It is extraordinary and we are likely to be the first nation in the world to achieve the World Health Organization’s elimination target of less than four cases per 100,000 women per year.”

While the future looks promising, a concerted effort is required to reduce the higher rates of cervical cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from multicultural backgrounds,  women with lower socio-economic status and women in low and middle income countries.To help address low rates of screening in these populations, the Women’s has been involved in trialling the efficacy of self-collection HPV tests using a simple swab for a possible widescale rollout.

“Women over 30 in Australia who have never had a screening test or who have lapsed from regular clinician-collected cervical screening are already eligible for self-collected tests – but making this option more widely available could hugely improve screening rates in previously hard-to-reach populations,” Mr Wrede said.

“Self-collection tests have proven just as accurate in detecting HPV and we would certainly support a wider rollout of their use.

“We must also persist with HPV vaccination in Australia. We’re a nation of immigration, and lots of people that live here have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated and still need to be regularly screened.”

This week is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week (8-14 November) and women aged 25 to 74 are encouraged to check where they are in their screening cycle and make an appointment if needed.

View more information about cervical cancer.

Notes

In 2018, the World Health Organisation announced a global call for action to eliminate cervical cancer and in 2020 the World Health Assembly adopted the Global Strategy for cervical cancer elimination.

To eliminate cervical cancer, all countries must reach and maintain an incidence rate of below four per 100,000 women. Achieving that goal rests on three key pillars and their corresponding targets by 2030:

  • 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15;
  • 70% of women screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again by the age of 45; and
  • 90% of women identified with cervical disease should receive treatment (90% of women with pre-cancer treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer given cancer treatment or effective palliative care).
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