Never before has a type of cancer been driven to extinction, but that might soon change thanks to an aggressive national prevention program in Australia that's targeting cervical cancer.
A new study led by researchers from the Cancer Council NSW projects that in just four years, the incidence of cervical cancer in Australia will be so low it will be considered a rare cancer. By 2035, incidences are projected to plummet even further, to fewer than four new cases per 100,000 people. That's such a negligible amount that it will essentially be considered eliminated, reports the BBC.
It will be the first time any country has ever eliminated a type of 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 programs," said Dr. Megan Smith, a researcher from Cancer Council NSW.
Cervical cancer is caused by one of the high risk forms of HPV, a sexually transmitted virus. Worldwide, it is the fourth most frequent cancer in women and has a high mortality rate globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It's therefore no small feat that Australia has managed to reduce rates among its population so significantly.
The main policy at play in Australia's remarkable program was to replace its routine screening standards for the cancer, a pap smear examination, with more sensitive HPV cervical screening tests. This change alone has had a major impact, reducing cervical cancer rates by at least 20 percent. Australia's universal health care has ensured that the nation avoids some of the pitfalls that exist in middle and low-income countries, where the majority of cervical cancer deaths occur.
Australia's program also ensures that young people receive the HPV vaccine, which prevents 80 percent of cervical cancer instances.
It's a model for how to eliminate the cancer in other nations as well.