It’s bold, this idea that cervical cancer can be eliminated. Increasingly, though, the “E” word is used by researchers and public health authorities in Australia as they gaze into their country’s future and gauge the impact of wide HPV vaccine coverage coupled with sophisticated cervical cancer screening tests.
The land Down Under, simply put, rocks in this area. A decade after rolling out their national HPV vaccine program in 2007, data from Australia’s National HPV Vaccination Program Register indicated 86% of girls turning age 15 had received two doses of the vaccine and just over 80% received three doses. Vaccination rates for boys of the same age were not far behind as 82% had been given two doses and 76% had all three. In the U.S. for ages 13-17, data from the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases show 58% of females and 49% of males, respectively, have had two or more doses of the vaccine. (Studies show the protection generated with two doses of the vaccine in younger teens is similar to what’s observed with three doses.)
The Australian program has led to striking reductions among young people in both HPV infections and associated diseases such as high-grade precancers and genital warts (the HPV types associated with warts are different from those found with cervical cancers).
But can we really see a time when a nation reaches a place where cervical cancer is essentially non-existent?
It looks that way. Published in Lancet in late 2018 The Projected Timeframe until Cervical Cancer Elimination in Australia: a Modeling Study projects that, if the country keeps up with current vaccination and screening rates, cervical cancer rates will drop below four cases per 100,000 women by 2028 and as low as one per 100,000 when the calendar turns over to 2066.
Looking at data from Australia and other countries with solid vaccine programs, we know millions of doses of the vaccine have been safely given and the result is an incredible reduction in both HPV infections and related diseases. We also know that approximately 90% of cervical cancer deaths occur in low-income nations, a fact made all the more heartbreaking given that cervical cancer is largely preventable. This means we need to do more to make certain that vaccines and screening tests (like Pap tests and HPV tests) are made available to all women. The World Health Organization’s global call to action to eliminate cervical cancer is a start but we must constantly ask ourselves: now that we have the means to prevent this disease, do we have the will?
NCCC certainly does! If you’d like to get involved to support our work on behalf of women and families visit our Get Involved page to learn how you can make a difference.