Date published: 
3 October 2018
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

SANDY ALOISI:

New research from the Cancer Council predicts Australia will become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer. Last year, Australia transitioned from pap smears, recommended every two years, to a test that detects traces of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The new test is only required every five years and could see cervical cancer classified as a rare illness in Australia within 20 years. The Health Minister is Greg Hunt, he joins us now.

Minister, good morning to you.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning.

SANDY ALOISI:

It seems like a huge claim. Will women have to worry about cervical cancer in 20 years’ time?

GREG HUNT:

It’s always something we’ll have to focus on but the medical experts are predicting that Australia has the potential to be the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer. It’s not something that will happen overnight but we’ve seen a 50 per cent reduction in Australia since the introduction of the Pap smear in 1991.

We’ve also introduced the Gardasil vaccine in 2007. And then in the last 12 months, a new test – as you set out – which is earlier and more accurate for cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus, and an updated Gardasil vaccine for children in high school. So, this means that we have the potential to progressively detect and reduce the incidents of cervical cancer and potentially to eliminate.

SANDY ALOISI:

And good news for women too because the old Pap smear had to be taken every two years and now, as I mentioned, there’s a test only every five years that need be taken.

GREG HUNT:

That’s right. It’s more accurate but less frequent. And what it does is it detects the virus at an earlier stage than previously the way the Pap smear worked, which detected the pre-cancerous condition.

So, it’s more effective, less frequent, it’s coupled with the new vaccination regime which built on what began in 2007 under the leadership of the great Ian Frazer. So, this is really about protecting young Australian women and women throughout the course of their lives and as the vaccination flows through the community and as the new test rolls out, we have a much stronger ability to prevent and to detect at an early age and therefore to treat.

SANDY ALOISI:

So, how big a part has that vaccination regime played in this? Because I know when it was first introduced there was some disquiet about it as there is often with many vaccinations.

GREG HUNT:

Well, it’s a voluntary vaccination. Our rates at the moment are approximately 79 per cent for girls at age 15 and 73 per cent for boys. It also applies to other HPV-related conditions. We would like to see those rates go up because these vaccinations save lives. The Pap smear has been the leading cause of the reduction and what we’re seeing now is the vaccinations which began in 2007 just beginning to have their impact on younger women who would otherwise be in the group that might be first developing cervical cancer.

And as they get older, the rates will continue to reduce. And as the new vaccine is rolled out and therefore in years to come applies to women who reach an age where they might get cervical cancer, fewer will get it. And the advice of the medical experts is very clear; Australia has the potential to be the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer.

SANDY ALOISI:

Such an extraordinary breakthrough. Minister, can I ask you about another health issue this morning? Thousands of would be parents to have access to free genetic testing under the new Australian Genomics Health Futures Mission. What will this mean for families who are at risk of genetic disorders?

GREG HUNT:

What it means is that 10,000 couples initially will have the opportunity to be tested to see whether or not they have the genetic markers where if both have them, there’s the risk of a child being born with Fragile X or cystic fibrosis or Spinal muscular atrophy, amongst other genetic conditions. If they know this, then they can participate in an IVF program. And that means that they’re able to ensure that children are not born with those conditions and so, beautiful young healthy babies coming into the world.

Over the course of the next decade and coming decades, essentially what we have the potential to do is to ensure that far fewer children are born with these life threatening or utterly debilitating conditions in some places. So, that’s a huge step forward for public health, for parents, and for ensuring that we have healthy children that aren’t burdened with either terminal conditions or utterly debilitating conditions.

SANDY ALOISI:

Minister, I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.

GREG HUNT:

Yeah, a real pleasure.

SANDY ALOISI:

Health Minister Greg Hunt.