In a global first, Australia is on track to see cervical cancer regarded as a rare cancer instead a common disease by 2020, and considered so infrequent by 2038 that it will be "eliminated as a public health problem".
The projection has been described in new research from Cancer Council Australia, which credits the government's widespread vaccination program against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV) as the reason for the decline in cervical cancer cases.
"The age-standardised annual incidence of cervical cancer will decrease to fewer than six new cases per 100,000 women by 2020 and to fewer than four new cases per 100,000 women by 2028,” research published in the Lancet Public Health Journal and released by the Cancer Council this month revealed.
“If high-coverage vaccination and screening is maintained, at an elimination threshold of four new cases per 100,000 women annually, cervical cancer could be considered to be eliminated as a public health problem in Australia within the next 20 years," the research added.
Could #Australia become the first country to eliminate #cervicalcancer within the next 20 years if high-coverage #HPV vaccination and screening is maintained? New modelling study @TheLancetPH#IPVC2018https://t.co/uNpzYLxkJQpic.twitter.com/eQYfgVNsaP— The Lancet (@TheLancet) October 3, 2018
The vaccination initiative was first rolled throughout Australia's health framework in 2007. Most notably and abnormal is the fact that the original free vaccine for school-aged girls was broadened to teenage boys in 2013 because they can be carriers of the virus. The HPV vaccination program has seen a 77% reduction in the cases of HPV responsible for almost 75% of cervical cancer.
In 2017, the nation transitioned away from cervical Pap smear tests to instead focus on tests that screen women for signs of HPV. This new test, required once every five years, is said to increase the opportunity to detect signs of disease early.
The threshold at which cervical cancer meets the definition for a rare cancer is when it reaches an incidence rate of fewer than six cases per 100,000 women. Australia is very close to reaching this threshold https://t.co/QoFmeBsF0w— RACGP (@RACGP) October 4, 2018
"The test is more accurate but less frequent. And what it does is it detects the virus at an earlier stage than previously the way the Pap smear worked, which detected the pre-cancerous condition,” Australia’s Minister for Health Greg Hunt told ABC Radio.
“So, this is really about protecting young Australian women and women throughout the course of their lives and as the vaccination flows through the community and as the new test rolls out, we have a much stronger ability to prevent and to detect at an early age and therefore to treat,” he added.
Each year, around 250 females die from cervical cancer in Australia and 310,000 die worldwide. Australia has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.
Despite most developed nations having some type of HPV vaccination system, the actual teenage immunisation rates are low across the board. Within Japan, as with various other nations, the difficulty of enacting an HPV vaccination campaign at a national level, coupled with recent fear mongering tactics about vaccinations in general, has meant HPV immunisation rates have fallen from 70% to less than 1%.
In developing and middle income nations, many have yet to implement any type of HPV vaccination program at all.
Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer for women and the fourth most common cause of cancer death. So far in 2018, Swaziland has the highest rate of cervical cancer, followed by Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania.