The Gardasil vaccination will eradicate cervical cancer in Australia within 20 years, experts say. Picture: Brianne Makin
The Gardasil vaccination will eradicate cervical cancer in Australia within 20 years, experts say. Picture: Brianne Makin

Deadly cancer ‘gone’ in 20 years

AUSTRALIA is set to become the first country to all but eliminate cervical cancer within the next two decades thanks to Queensland's groundbreaking Gardasil vaccination.

Cancer Council NSW research has found cervical cancer incidence rates are expected to almost halve to less than four new cases per 100,000 women annually by 2035 - a level so low the cancer would be considered as having been extinguished as a public health issue.

However, writing in The Lancet - Public Health journal, the researchers say Australia will need to maintain its highly successful cervical cancer vaccination, developed in Queensland, and screening programs to achieve this result.

Lead researcher Professor Karen Canfell said Australia had led the way in cervical cancer control for "many years".

That's largely a result of work by Queensland scientist Ian Frazer, who with his late colleague Jian Zhou, developed a vaccine against the human papilloma virus, which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.

UQ Professor Ian Frazer developed the lifesaving Gardasil vaccination in conjunction with his late colleague, Jian Zhou.
UQ Professor Ian Frazer developed the lifesaving Gardasil vaccination in conjunction with his late colleague, Jian Zhou.

 

Prof Frazer, of The University of Queensland, was humble yesterday when asked about his role in the cancer breakthrough.

"It's a great demonstration of the value of medical research to the community," he said.

"While we contributed one critical bit to the story, the vaccine was truly a product of collaboration between many scientists globally."

For example, German virologist Harald (Harald) zur Hausen won the Nobel prize for medicine in 2008 for his revolutionary discovery in the 1980s of the causal link between HPV and cervical cancer - a crucial step in the eventual development of a vaccine.

Cervical cancer kills 250,000 women worldwide a year.

The latest research will be presented this week at the International Papilloma Virus Conference in Sydney.

"Delegates from other countries are eager to learn from the … successes we have achieved in Australia," Prof Frazer said.

Prof Canfell, Cancer Council NSW's research director, said Australian cervical cancer researchers were keen to share their findings with the rest of the world.

Megan Flory is one of the thousands of Australian women who has had the Gardasil vaccination. Picture: Adam Head
Megan Flory is one of the thousands of Australian women who has had the Gardasil vaccination. Picture: Adam Head

Brisbane-based gynaecologist Associate Professor Gino Pecoraro said the outcome was "a wonderful result and something that Australians should be very proud of".

But he added: "It remains imperative that parents consent to having their children immunised, that women ensure they don't forget their regular five-year cervical screens and of course, as always, any unusual vaginal bleeding mandates review by your general practitioner or gynaecologist."

Australia recently moved to a new five-yearly HPV cervical screening test for women aged 25-74, replacing the two-yearly pap smear previously offered to women aged 18-69.

Brisbane's Megan Flory, 26, received the Gardasil vaccine several years ago and was delighted it had made such a difference to the number of cases recorded since then.

"It's great that cervical cancer might become a thing of the past for future generations - anything that means there's less cancer in the world is really wonderful news," she said.

Prof Frazer's latest vaccine, a treatment for head and neck cancer, is in preliminary trials to test its safety.



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