Australia May Soon Eradicate Cervical Cancer. Will The U.S. Catch Up?

The country is on track to effectively eliminate the disease by 2028.

Australia could become the first country to eradicate cervical cancer, according to a new report published in The Lancet this week. With the help of national screening and vaccination programs, the country is on track to prevent new cases of cervical cancer at a rate that would classify the disease as "rare" by 2022 and effectively eliminate it altogether by 2028.

As the study outlines, Australia is considered a global front runner when it comes to cervical cancer prevention. The country's National Cervical Screening program began in 1991, and it was one of the first countries to introduce a national HPV vaccination program for girls in 2007. It has since extended its high vaccination coverage to include both genders.

The health measures have had a profound impact. According to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the number of women older than 25 who were diagnosed with cervical cancer dropped by at least 50 percent by 2010, following the implementation of the National Cervical Screening program.

Australia has continued to introduce new health initiatives to increase cervical cancer prevention in more recent years. In 2017, the country transitioned from the use of Pap cervical screenings, meant to detect changes in the cervix, every two years starting at the age of 18 to 20 to a new HPV cervical test required every five years for all women from the ages of 25 to 74. The test is used to find cell abnormalities from HPV infections before they have surfaced.

Using these methods, The Lancet reports estimates that the annual diagnosis of cervical cancer will decrease to fewer than six new cases per 100,000 women by 2022 (considered a "rare" cancer threshold)  and fewer than four new cases per 100,000 women by 2028. The study notes that these year estimates are dependent on the population used for age-standardization and the continued practice of regular HPV screening behavior, among other factors.

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The study has significant implications not just for Australia, but for the rest of the world as well. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, despite being one of the most preventable cancers if detected and managed early. If effective as predicted, Australia's screening and testing methodologies for the cancer could set a precedent for the United States and other countries to follow in the future. 

The prevalence of cervical cancer has also sharply decreased in the U.S., to the tune of 7.4 new cases per 100,000 women per year in the U.S, according to Smithsonian. But, as the magazine points out, Australia's preventative care programs stand out among the rest.

"We've been leading the way in cervical cancer controlfor many years," professor Karen Canfell, director of research at Cancer Council NSW, told CNN. "We'll be sharing our research and approaches with the rest of the world as part of a global push to eliminate this highly preventable cancer."

Cover image via  CNK02 / Shutterstock.

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