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Let’s eliminate cervical cancer in Australia by 2035!

Development of Australia’s National Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy

What is the project about?

On 17 November 2021, the Australian Government announced the development of a collaborative National Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy (the Strategy), led by the Australian Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer (ACPCC). This project will inform the Australian Government Department of Health’s future activities to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem in Australia by 2035.   

The project aims to achieve a future free from this preventable disease for all women and people with a cervix across the diverse communities we have in Australia. We will talk to health experts, representatives of priority communities, and other interested groups to help us develop the Strategy.

Ensuring health equity is the most important principle in this project, as we know that some groups in Australia experience higher rates of cervical cancer disease and death than others. To ensure that these health gaps are closed, the Strategy will be developed with extensive input from under screened communities with a focus on what needs to be done to eliminate cervical cancer equitably.

What does elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem mean?

Eliminating cervical cancer means that the number of women and people with a cervix who are diagnosed with cervical cancer is reduced to a very low number. It’s important to understand that it does not mean there will be no cases of cervical cancer in the Australian community at all.

No cases at all would be described as ‘eradication’. This is only possible when there is a single cause of a condition, and it is possible to permanently remove that cause. An example of where the world has permanently eradicated a disease, so that there are zero infections from that disease, is smallpox.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that elimination of cervical cancer is achieved by a country when fewer than 4 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed for every 100,000 women in its population, and that it can keep the number of cases at this very low level. Australia aims to reach this goal by 2035.

Where are we now?

Australia already has one of the lowest rates of cervical cancer cases and deaths in the world. This is because we have excellent cervical cancer prevention programs, which include:

  • vaccinating young people against human papillomavirus (HPV) through our school-based vaccination program when they are 12-13 years old (and for free through their GP until they are 20), and
  • offering Cervical Screening Tests (which looks for HPV infections in the cervix) to all women and people with a cervix every five years from the age of 25 to 74

The other important factor in Australia’s low rate of deaths from cervical cancer is the high-quality cancer treatment and care that Australia’s health system provides. In addition, many patients with cervical cancer can join clinical trials that are testing new and better treatment options.

Even though we have high HPV vaccination and cervical screening rates, and successful treatment services, we still have more work to do. Around 850 women and people with a cervix are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Australia each year.

Data tells us that some Australian communities are experiencing poorer cervical cancer outcomes than others. For example:

Women in very remote areas are three times more likely to die from cervical cancer compared to those living in major cities

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than other Australians, and almost four times more likely to die from it.

People in the lowest socioeconomic status group are more than twice as likely to die from cervical cancer than those in those with the highest socioeconomic status

Whilst modelling suggests that Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to reach cervical cancer elimination, we must address inequities in access to vaccination, screening, and treatment so that this goal becomes a reality for all women and people with a cervix in Australia.

How you can get involved

The diverse experience, perspectives and knowledge of all stakeholders and interested members of the community is vital to informing the development of the National Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy. You can take part by participating in consultation activities which will include an online survey, workshops, interviews and a consultation paper. These activities will begin in mid-2022.

Register your details if you would like to stay informed about the project and consultation events as information becomes available.

References:

NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control. 2021 Cervical Cancer Elimination Progress Report: Australia’s progress towards the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem. Published online 26/3/2021, Melbourne, Australia, at https://www.cervicalcancercontrol.org.au