In 2004 it was announced that an Australian-made vaccine to protect women against cervical cancer is proving to be 100 per cent effective in its trials so far. The vaccine introduces virus-like particles which produce an immune response that protects against real HPV viruses.
Cervical cancer is probably the first cancer that the World Health Organisation recognises as 100 per cent caused by infection with a virus. The virus for cervical cancer is human papilloma virus (HPV). Only a limited set of HPV cause cervical cancer and even these do not cause cancer in everyone that gets infected. Indeed, 98 per cent of people who get the infections cure themselves of the infections and it's only the very small percentage who get persistent infection who are at risk of developing the cancer. Nevertheless, 100 per cent of the cancers have the virus in them.
Pap smears are an extremely effective way of preventing cervical cancer and there are two reasons why they won't be replaced in a hurry. The first one is that there are an awful lot of women out there who already are infected with HPVs and who are at risk at some time in the next 10 to 20 years of developing a cancer and, the way to prevent them getting cervical cancer is for them to continue to have pap smears. The second reason why pap smears won't disappear in a great hurry is because this vaccine as it's currently envisaged, will be protective against only about two thirds of the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. So for the women who get the vaccine, the major benefit will be that they're very much less likely to have an abnormal Pap Smear and they're very much less likely to need to go on to further treatment.