Amongst all the conversation involving women about #MeToo, #NeverAgain, some great news was published about Australian women's health. The International Papillomavirus Society revealed research showing a drop in the HPV rate among women aged 18 to 24years from 22.7% to 1.1%, The prediction is that Australia could become the first country to eradicate cervical cancer. Currently every year about 800 Australian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 250 will die from it. An estimated 80% of the women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have never been screened.

The human papillomavirus ( HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that causes 99.9% of cervical cancers. The federal government began a HPV vaccination program for 12-13 year old girls in 2007, extended to boys in 2013.The program has resulted  in a dramatic fall in expected future cervical cancers. The new cervical screening test introduced in December to replace PAP smears is expected to protect up to 30% more people from cervical screening. The way the sample is collected has not changed, in the future, women who have not screened regularly may be eligible for an alternative way to collect a sample

Only 50-60% of women participate regularly in the cervical screening programme, which in December,replaced a two yearly PAP with a more advanced test that can detect high-risk HPV infections before cancer develops. The new program asks women aged 25 to 74 years to take the test every 5 years. The extended time for screening is safe as it usually takes 10-15 years for a persistent HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer. Fewer tests are required in aa woman's lifetime.

There are more than 120 HPV type viruses, some cause warts, 20 types are known to cause cancers such a cervix, head and neck, penile, vulva, vagina, anal and skin. Up to 80% of adults will be infected at some point, not everyone who is infected develops cancer.  HPV infection most commonly causes no symptoms and is cleared naturally by the body's immune system within one to two years without causing problems. Most cancers are caused by Type 16 or 18, which have been included in all the vaccines given. The vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV infection known to cause cervical cancer, so women who have had the vaccine must continue to undertake regular cervical screening.

In an interview about the recent research publication Professor Ian Frazer from the University of Queensland (  the co-inventor of the vaccine) also  reminded older women who have never been vaccinated to continue regular screening, even if they no longer engage in sexual intercourse.  He also offered the reminder that despite potentially finding cervical changes that can be treated before developing life-threatening cancer,  40-50% of Australian women do not participate in the regular screening programme.. He was optimistic that as long as Australia continues a screening programme and the vaccination programme, there may be no new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in 10-20 years.

Most cervical cancer is preventable, early detection of changes to the cervix can lead to early treatment, better outcomes and better chances of survival.

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