Within the next two decades, Australia is expected to become the first country to make cervical cancer a rare thing of the past.
That’s according to a study published in the Lancet Public Health Journal, which found that less than 4 out of 100,000 women each year are expected to be diagnosed with the cancer by the year 2028. By 2066, that is expected to plummet to one case per 100,000 women.
Today, roughly seven out of every 100,000 Australian women are diagnosed with the disease.
But by 2034, the study says, Australia will be averaging less than one death from cervical cancer out of every 100,000 women.
For context, an estimated 7.5 women in the U.S. out of every 100,000 were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, according to The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation.
The American Cancer Society predicts that 4,170 women in the U.S. will die from cervical cancer this year, with another 13,240 being diagnosed. It is most commonly found in women between the age of 35 and 44 and remains a threat as they age.
So how is Australia setting an example for how the world could ward off the deadly cancer?
The study’s authors credited it to the country’s screening programs and its national HPV vaccine.
As reported by Newsweek, Australia cut the rate of cervical cancer in half after it announced a national screening program in 1991 to help catch the cancer early. The country also offered girls between the ages of 12 and 13 a publicly-funded HPV vaccine in 2007, then made the same offer to boys in 2013.
Around 99.7 percent of cervical cancers are caused by an infection from the human papillomavirus, which the vaccine can ward off.
Ian Frazer, immunologist who co-invented the Gardasil “HPV” vaccine, said that he never imagined his creation would have such a profound impact so soon, according to The Guardian.
“It wasn’t something that I expected would happen quite that quickly,” he told the Guardian. “It makes me feel very proud that the research community can deliver the goods when it’s asked and can make a real difference in terms of world health.”
But for Sam Smithson, a 45-year-old woman from Australia and mother of two, the study comes as doctors warn she may only have one year left to live because of her cervical cancer diagnosis, according to The Guardian.
She said its been tough on her two children after the “dark day” when she learned the bad news.
“When my hair started falling out, I gave my boys a pair of scissors each and they cut it all off,” she told The Guardian. “I think that helped them not to be so scared.”
Dr. Richard Edmonson, professor of gynecological oncology at the University of Manchester, expressed some concern about the study’s findings, according to Newsweek. He was not involved in the study.
Cervical cancer is only expected to reach historic lows, but not be fully eliminated, Edmonson told the outlet, and it’s hard to know if the decrease in cases of the disease will “plateau off quickly” and stubbornly remain at a higher level.
“This study estimates when incidence will fall below two prespecified levels,” he told Newsweek. “Importantly this is not the same as being truly eliminated.”
Despite concerns about the study, Frazer said has always believed that his vaccine would prove useful somewhere down the road.
“Because this human papillomavirus only infects humans and the vaccine program prevents the spread of the virus,” he told The Age, “eventually we’ll get rid of it, like we did with smallpox.”