Cancer vaccine works

Over three years, the rates of pre-cancerous lesions have fallen in Australian girls who have received the anti-cancer vaccine Gardasil.

The study  found cases of high-grade cervical lesions — which are not yet cancerous, but carry a high risk of becoming so — have fallen in females aged up to 20, but not for older women.

The vaccine can only protect women who are yet to be infected with the four main cancer-causing strains of the human papillomavirus, which means it is most effective when given to girls who have yet to become sexually active.

Australia was the first country in the world to roll out on a population-wide basis the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, which was made possible by the groundbreaking work of University of Queensland expert and former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer.

The program in Australia provided Gardasil free to girls aged 12 to 13, with a catch-up program available for women aged 13 to 26. A second vaccine, Cervarix, has since also become available for private purchase, making use of the same breakthrough by Professor Frazer.

The findings, presented at a conference in Montreal, Canada, late last week, found that while the rate of high-grade cervical abnormalities in women aged 18 to 20 years was 1.2 per cent in 2006, this had fallen to 0.99 per cent in 2009.

Among girls aged under 18 the drop was more pronounced, with rates falling from 0.85 per cent in 2006 to 0.22 per cent last year.

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