AUSTRALIA’S cervical cancer screening guidelines could once again be revised, following the release of new global recommendations by the World Health Organisation.
The WHO has recommended preventive HPV (human papillomavirus) testing for women, with women who test negative not required to be rescreened for cervical cancer for five years, saving costs to health systems worldwide.
It has also recommended girls aged nine to 13 years should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine instead of three, with two doses proven to be just as effective.
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Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said Australian health authorities would need time to consider the new recommendations.
“Australian experts will need time to consider these new recommendations in context of the Australian population and any specific cancer risks,” Ms Clift said.
“While Australia already plans to introduce HPV testing in future, consistent with the WHO’s recommendations, the change from three doses to two of HPV vaccine will need examination.
“The HPV vaccine has almost eliminated human papillomavirus in vaccinated Australians, protecting young men and women from cervical cancer.”
The WHO report highlighted significant declines in the rate of cervical cancer in the developed world, compared to rising or stable rates in most developing countries.
“The recommendations in the WHO guide are important for cervical cancer control globally, giving more communities access to life-saving screening and treatment programs,” Ms Clift said.
“The guide confirms two doses of the vaccination are as effective as the current three-dose schedule, making it more cost effective and easier to administer.”
Ms Clift cautioned that until Australian health authorities adopt the two-dose schedule, young people should continue to receive the full three-dose course of the HPV vaccine.
“It’s imperative that all eligible young people receive the current full course – taking preventive action against HPV is vital and could save a young person’s life in years to come,” she said.
“Australian experts will also need to examine the evidence for both boys and girls, with screening programs in place for all young people.”
Earlier this year, Cancer Council Queensland welcomed recommended changes to Australia’s cervical screening program announced by Australia’s Medical Services Advisory Committee.
Evidence shows a new HPV test every five years, which is recommended to become the primary cervical screening tool, would be more effective than a pap smear and just as safe.
“Until the HPV test is approved, which isn’t likely before 2016, regular pap smears currently remain the best protection against cervical cancer,” Ms Clift said.
“Through population screening at regular intervals, the pap smear test has the potential to reduce up to 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases nationally.
“If the changes are adopted, we will be urging all Queensland women to embrace the new HPV test, continuing Australia’s record in the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer.
“For now, we encourage all eligible Queensland women to continue to undergo pap smear tests every two years.”
Around 770 women across Australia are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year – 180 of these are from Queensland.
The WHO guide was launched today at the Union for International Cancer Control’s World Cancer Congress in Melbourne.
More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.