Unprecedented cervical cancer vaccine uptake

Tuesday 18 August, 2009

Women urged to complete 2nd and 3rd doses before 31 Dec

Record numbers of Australian women aged 18 to 26 have taken up the first dose of the government's free cervical cancer vaccine with preliminary data released from the National HPV Vaccine Register indicating a national uptake of 35-60 per cent.

However, Cancer Council Victoria is concerned women are not going to reap the full protection of the vaccine if they fail to follow up with the necessary second and third doses.

Director of Cancer Council Victoria, Professor David Hill said anecdotally the government-funded program was one of the most successful adult-based immunisation programs in Australia but now was no time to rest on our laurels.

"A 35-60 per cent uptake rate in any adult immunisation program around the world is a phenomenal success. Australia is leading the way in global cervical cancer prevention; there are many countries where cervical cancer is a major health issue closely watching our program before implementing their own," said Prof Hill.

"This program has been particularly successful because women were not individually contacted to participate; it required self-motivation on behalf of the participants," he said.

While uptake rates of the first dose have been unprecedented, Professor Hill warned the uptake of the second and third doses could be substantially less.

"It is incredibly important for women to access all three doses, as this provides optimal effectiveness against the four types of human papilloma virus (HPV types 16, 18, 6, 11) protected by the vaccine," said Prof Hill.

"The free vaccination program for women aged 18-26 ends on 31 December this year. Women are able to access their second and third doses for free, if they accessed their first dose before 30 June this year.

"It will be at least 10 to 20 years before we start to see the full impact of the vaccine on cervical cell abnormality and cancer rates, but already we are beginning to see its effects in other areas," said Professor Hill.

A study conducted by Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC), part of The Alfred, noted a steady decline in genital warts diagnoses among women aged under 26. The HPV strains responsible for genital warts are also protected by the vaccine.

"We are starting to see proof that the vaccine is working, but we need to continue to encourage young women to complete the full three-dose vaccination course. It's also vitally important for vaccinated women to continue having bi-annual Pap tests between the ages of 18 and 69. A combination of Pap tests and the vaccine provide the best form of protection against developing cervical cancer," said Professor Hill.

For more information about the cervical cancer vaccine, Pap tests and HPV visit www.papscreen.org.au or call the Cancer Council helpline on 13 11 20.