Australia is poised to become the first country globally to eradicate cervical cancer, potentially achieving this milestone by 2028, seven years ahead of the initially projected timeline.
This significant achievement results from the effectiveness of a locally developed vaccine and an enhanced screening program, surpassing expectations.
To accelerate the elimination process, the Australian government will unveil a comprehensive $48 million National Strategy for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer.
As part of this initiative, a target will be set to vaccinate 90 per cent of teenage boys against human papillomaviruses (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer, by 2030. Additionally, screening for individuals aged 25 to 74 will transition to a five-year interval instead of the previous practice of twice in a lifetime.
The strategy outlines that 95 per cent of people diagnosed with precancerous lesions or cancer will receive treatment within six months. A coordinated care roadmap will be implemented to ensure effective and timely interventions.
Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney, who launched the National Strategy, expressed pride in Australia’s contributions to cervical cancer prevention. “Australia has always punched above its weight when it comes to cervical cancer, and now Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to eliminate this deadly disease,” she stated.
While the initial goal was to eliminate cervical cancer by 2035, Professor Marion Saville, the director of the Australian Centre for Cervical Cancer Prevention, suggests that the actual achievement may occur between 2028 and 2035. The transformation of screening from pap smears to a PCR test in 2017 has significantly contributed to progress, with 78 per cent of eligible women taking the new test by 2022.
The announcement has been hailed as a historic achievement, with cervical cancer incidence and mortality in Australia halved since the introduction of the pap smear program over 30 years ago. Notably, the World Health Organization’s threshold for cancer elimination is less than four cases per 100,000 women; in 2018, Australia reported 6.5 new cases per 100,000.
While zero cases may be challenging due to rare types of cervical cancer unrelated to HPV, ongoing research on a therapeutic vaccine treating existing HPV infections could further expedite the elimination process.
The news has been met with enthusiasm, especially by those who have personally experienced the impact of cervical cancer and its precursors, reinforcing the transformative potential of the Australian-developed vaccine.
*With News Corp Australia Network and AAP