EX­CLU­SIVE Aus­tralian sci­en­tists wipe out cer­vi­cal cancer

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FRONT PAGE - GRANT McARTHUR

CER­VI­CAL cancer will be erad­i­cated around the globe, with Aus­tralia lead­ing the way as the first na­tion to be to­tally cancer-free.

Sci­en­tists will to­day de­clare that the hu­man pa­pil­lo­mavirus vac­cine, de­vel­oped by Aus­tralian sci­en­tists to stop the cancer-caus­ing virus in its tracks, will com­pletely wipe out the dis­ease.

The break­through — be­ing com­pared to the suc­cess of the anti-po­lio cam­paign of the 1950s — has al­ready seen HPV in­fec­tions drop to just one in 100 in Aus­tralian women.

That is down from one in five a decade ago af­ter a nineyear vac­ci­na­tion cam­paign.

THE end of cer­vi­cal cancer is in sight and Aus­tralia is likely to be the first na­tion free of the killer dis­ease thanks to the ground­break­ing hu­man pa­pil­lo­mavirus vac­cine.

As new re­search re­veals the rate of HPV has dropped from one in five young Aus­tralian women a decade ago to just one in 100, lead­ing cer­vi­cal cancer ex­perts will to­day an­nounce that the dis­ease is ex­pected to be erad­i­cated world­wide in the next 30 to 40 years.

Aus­tralia, hav­ing de­vel­oped the vac­cine and then led the way with the HPV im­mu­ni­sa­tion pro­gram, is fore­cast to be the first na­tion re­garded as free of cer­vi­cal cancer, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Pa­pil­lo­mavirus So­ci­ety, which ad­vises the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion and leads global pol­icy on the dis­ease.

HPV is re­spon­si­ble for al­most all cer­vi­cal cancer cases but, be­cause it can take decades for cancer to de­velop, the full im­pact of Aus­tralia’s nine- year im­mu­ni­sa­tion pro­gram will take years to fil­ter through.

More than 800 Aus­tralian women are di­ag­nosed with cer­vi­cal cancer each year, and about 220 of those die.

But fu­ture generations will be free of the dis­ease.

While sur­vival rates have risen dra­mat­i­cally in many other forms of can­cers, none has been erad­i­cated.

IPVS mem­ber Suzanne Gar­land, from The Royal Women’s Hos­pi­tal and the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne, said doc­tors now had the tools to erad­i­cate cer­vi­cal cancer and only needed po­lit­i­cal will and the pub­lic’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to wipe it out.

“We are fore­cast­ing that over the next 30 to 40 years, rates of cer­vi­cal cancer will drop from around the cur­rent 1000 cases a year in Aus­tralia to just a few,” Prof Gar­land said.

“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.”

To mark In­ter­na­tional HPV Aware­ness Day to­day, the IPVS is pub­lish­ing its state­ment in the jour­nal Pa­pil­lo­mavirus Virus Re­search.

WHO will meet later this year to for­malise the erad­i­ca­tion plan.

Mod­el­ling shows that ex­pan­sion of health pro­grams to en­gage those not cur­rently vac­ci­nated or screened for HPV is pre­dicted to elim­i­nate the dis­ease within decades.

Cancer Coun­cil Vic­to­ria screen­ing man­ager Kate Broun said it was in­cred­i­ble to fore­see the end of a cancer but it would re­quire higher vac­ci­na­tion rates in “un­der­screen­ing groups” such as indige­nous Aus­tralians, those from cul­tur­ally di­verse back­grounds and the eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged.

“We have seen it with things like po­lio a long time ago but not in terms of cancer,” she said.

“Cer­vi­cal cancer is unique be­cause we do know it is di­rectly caused by a virus.”

The lat­est re­search from Prof Gar­land’s team shows that the HPV rate has dropped from 22.7 per cent to just 1.1 per cent in the past 10 years among women aged 18 to 24.

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