Victorian cervix cancer rates at all time low

Friday 11 October, 2013

Report shows dramatic decline in diagnosis and mortality

Victorian women have among the lowest rates of cervix cancer in the world, according to the latest snapshot of cancer in Victoria.

Cancer in Victoria: Statistics & Trends 2012, released today, reveals that the rate of new cervix cancer cases has fallen by 45% and the rate of deaths has declined by 61% in Victoria within the past 20 years.

The report largely attributes this dramatic decline to the success of the population-based screening program PapScreen.

According to Cancer in Victoria there were 213 new diagnoses of invasive cervix cancer in the state last year, and 2499 diagnoses of in situ cancer* of the cervix. In the same year, 51 Victorian women died from the disease.

Director of the Victorian Cancer Registry Helen Farrugia said about three quarters of the cervical cancers now being detected were at stage 1 or at stage 2 and, therefore, more easily treatable.

"This is largely due to the success of the population-based, organised screening programs - and these results are expected to improve even further following the mass HPV vaccination campaigns targeting young Victorians."

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said the Victorian rates were so low as to be internationally significant with cervix cancer still the second most common cancer globally for women.

"In Australia our incidence rates are among the lowest in the world, but that is in sharp contrast to less-developed parts of the globe where cervix cancer is common and many more women die from the disease."

The registry has also discovered specific improvement in the risk of cervical cancer among women who have migrated to Victoria. For example, in 1996-1999 Victorian women who had migrated from Southeast Asia had twice the incidence rate compared with women who were born in Australia. However, by 2008-2011 the rates for these two groups were the same.

"We have found that women who migrate here from high-risk countries for cervix cancer are more likely to develop the disease but over time this risk diminishes to being the same as that of Australian-born women," Ms Farrugia said.

The Cancer in Victoria report does warn older women - the majority of whom have already been exposed to the human papilloma virus (HPV) - to remain vigilant. PapScreen recommends that all women aged under 70 be screened every two years.

* There is more than one type of cervix cancer. The main cell types are squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and adenocarcinoma. The Victorian Cancer Registry also routinely collects limited information on the stage of cervix cancer. The earliest stage (stage 0) is carcinoma in situ where a single layer of cells on the surface of the cervix has become cancerous. The next stage is micro-invasive SCC, which includes "early stromal invasion" of less than 1 mm and other lesions where cancerous cells have penetrated to 3-5 mm (stage 1a). The next stages describe invasive cancers that have spread deeper into the cervix and to other parts.