Can the U.S. Eliminate Cervical Cancer? Australia Says It’s About to Do Just That

Every year in the United States, more than 42,000 cases of HPV-associated cancers are diagnosed – with cervical cancer being the most common. Doctors around the world are working to raise awareness about HPV and cancer risk. A new study is saying Australia may be the first nation to completely eliminate cervical cancer, due to a strong, government-backed initiative.

By the year 2028, it is expected that less than four in every 100,000 women in Australia will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, according to the New York Times. That’s a massive reduction. This is because the Australian government has set up an HPV vaccination program – drastically reducing the number of cervical and other HPV-related cancers in the country.

Australia first introduced a vaccination program in 2007. Back then it was a free three-dose course for teenage girls. The country has since upgraded the program to include younger boys, who can carry and transmit the disease. “Australia is on track to become the first country to eliminate cervical cancer,” Dr. Karen Canfell, the director of Cancer Research at Cancer Council NSW, told The Times.

Cancer Council Australia researchers suggest that the massive decline in cases of cancer-causing HPV (77%) in the country is due to a combination of the government implementing a vaccination program in schools nationwide, screening programs for older women, and public support.

So if a massive reduction in HPV-related cancers can be accomplished, why hasn’t the U.S. followed Australia’s example? There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about the HPV vaccine leading to autism and promoting sex that has swayed many parents not to vaccinate their kids. But we got the answers from the experts … both of those claims are unfounded.

“The HPV vaccines do not cause autism,” Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet. “There’s always a risk of some vaccine-related side effects … local site injection, pain, redness, swelling. There are no syndromes, such as autism or other neurologic syndromes, that have been linked to the HPV vaccines.”

Many parents also resist vaccinating their children because they believe that because HPV is sexually transmitted, their kids don’t need it. That resistance may stem from religion or simply because parents don’t want to think about their 12-year-olds ever having sex. But Dr. Geiger told SurvivorNet that it’s illogical for parents to believe that just because their kids aren’t sexually active now, doesn’t mean they don’t need to be protected in the future.

As for the myth that vaccinating kids against HPV will encourage them to have sex earlier … Stanford’s Dr. Jonathan Berek called that “fake news.”

“There are no data to support that,” Dr. Berek said. “These viruses are very common … once someone becomes sexually active, they’re likely to get a papillomavirus infection. The way to prevent the kind of cancers associated with that is to get a vaccination when you’re young, before you’re sexually active.”

Learn more about SurvivorNet's rigorous medical review process.