The Land Down Under remains on track to become the very first country to eradicate cervical cancer – and they could do so within the next 20 years, according to new research published in The Lancet Public Health.
The study was based on a model that factored in Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination, natural history, and cervical screenings to determine the age-standardized rates of cervical cancer between 2015 and 2100.
Right now, roughly seven in every 100,000 Australian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year but by 2020, this could drop to six in every 100,000, which would mean it falls into the category of "rare cancer". This is just an estimate and the model predicts Australia could reach this target as early as 2018 or a tad later, in 2022.
By 2035, the model predicts incident rates will be as low as four in every 100,000 women, which would put it on a potential elimination threshold. This four in 100,000 figure could be achieved by 2021 but the researchers say 2028 is a more reasonable and more probable estimate.
What's more, the study says it's likely that by 2066 (though, again, it may be as early as 2054 or as late as 2077), incidents will fall to fewer than one in every 100,000 women in Australia. Of course, these figures rely on screening and vaccination rates remaining stable in the upcoming decades.
These results suggest that Australia would not only be the first country to introduce a national and government-funded vaccination program for girls aged 12 to 13, but it would also be the first to eradicate the cancer.
"Regardless of what the [elimination] threshold is, it is likely Australia would be the first country to reach it given our current low rate of cervical cancer, and our strong prevention programmes," Megan Smith, a researcher from Cancer Council New South Wales (NSW) and study co-author, told BBC News.
So, what makes the Australian method so effective? The researchers credit its success to a range of preventative measures, including the National Cervical Screening Program introduced in 1991 and HPV cervical screening tests, which are more sensitive than the pap smears they replaced last year. It is thought that the new tests will reduce cancer rates by at least 20 percent.
There is, of course, also the huge progress made since the introduction of the national vaccination program, which has been offered to teenage girls since 2007 and was then extended to teenage boys in 2013. Other countries, including the UK, are now following suit and have announced plans to offer the vaccine to teenagers of all genders.