There's Been A Surge In Cervical Cancer In Australia, And It May Be Linked To Skipping Pap Tests

Getty/Christopher Furlong

A recent surge in cervical cancer in women aged 25-29 in Australia may be due to the fact that those vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) are less likely to have a pap smear.

Health experts say neglecting to take a check-up pap smear jeopardises the benefits of the vaccine.

According to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia, participation in cervical screening during the period 2010–2011 was significantly lower in 25–29-year-old vaccinated women (45.2%) compared to unvaccinated women (58.7%).

Less than 38% of vaccinated women aged 20–24 years were screened compared with around 48% of unvaccinated women.

The three-dose vaccine used in the national HPV vaccination program protects against the two viruses which cause 70% to 80% of cervical cancer. It does not provide universal protection, however.

Associate Professor Marion Saville, from the Victorian Cytology Service, says most young women know that Pap tests are still needed after vaccination.

“Our study suggests that this knowledge has not translated into actions,” writes Saville and her coauthors.

In an editorial in the same issue of the medical journal, Dr Annabelle Farnsworth from Douglass Hanly Moir Pathology, says the trend is concerning, given recent evidence from England.

“[In] 2003, the age of commencement of cervical screening in England was raised from 21 years to 25 years”, Farnsworth wrote.

“This change was based on modelling data and was considered to be safe.

“Subsequently, there has been … a significant increase in cervical cancer in the 25–29-year age group.”

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