Double Whammy Putting Women At Risk For Cervical Cancer

Health authorities are alarmed as new data shows women who are not vaccinated against HPV are less likely to have regular cervical cancer screenings.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a contagious sexually-transmitted illness that is responsible for 84 to 90 percent of cervical cancers.

New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found women who are unvaccinated against HPV are less likely to have regular cervical cancer screenings.

Screening rates for women aged 25-29 who are vaccinated against HPV is 59 percent. However, that figure falls to just 44 percent for people who are unvaccinated.

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This is a "scarier prospect" for health authorities because those who are unvaccinated are particularly vulnerable to the disease, said Dr Megan Smith, Research Fellow at Cancer Council NSW and adviser to Cancer Council Australia.

"Previous early data suggested that women who were vaccinated against HPV were less likely to participate in screening," she said.

“But this latest data suggests this isn’t the case - it’s the young women who aren’t vaccinated who are also most likely to be the ones who are missing their regular cervical screening test."

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Smith said it is important for all eligible women from the age of 25 to have regular screenings, as early detection can be life-saving.

"Most cervical cancers occur in women who have never been screened or are overdue for their test, and cancers detected through screening have better survival rates," she said.

"Regardless of whether you had the HPV vaccine, you still need to screen from the age of 25.”

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Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the world, with 570,000 new cases diagnosed every year. About 300,000 women die of the disease each year.

The success of the HPV vaccination program -- given to girls and boys aged 12-13 years old -- has put Australia on track to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue by 2035.

“To achieve cervical cancer elimination in Australia we need to ensure that screening and HPV vaccination uptake is adequate across all segments of our community," Smith said.

"However, we know from other data that First Nations women, and women living in socio-economically disadvantaged areas or remote locations are less likely to be up to date with their cervical screening."