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Latest figures released in a report today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) show the incidence of cervical cancer among Australian women remains at an historic low since 2002.

The report, Cervical screening in Australia 2008­–2009, shows there were 9 new cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women aged 20–69 in 2007, with mortality at 2 deaths per 100,000 women.

Incidence and mortality have both halved since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) in 1991.

For women aged 20–69 years, incidence decreased from 19.0 new cases per 100,000 women in 1982 (the first year for which data are available) to 17.8 in 1990. Incidence decreased more sharply after that year to reach a plateau of 9 new cases per 100,000 women between 2002 and 2007.

Mortality from cervical cancer has decreased more or less steadily since 1982, when the rate was 5.5 deaths per 100,000 women down to 1.9 deaths per 100,000 women in 2007.

‘The NCSP aims to reduce cervical cancer cases, as well as illness and death resulting from cervical cancer in Australia, through an organised approach to cervical screening,’ AIHW spokesperson Christine Sturrock said.

‘In 2008 and 2009, more than 3.6 million women participated in the cervical cancer screening program, which was almost 60% of eligible women,’ Ms Sturrock said.

‘Of concern is that the incidence of cervical cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was more than twice that of non-Indigenous women, and mortality of Indigenous women was 5 times the non-Indigenous rate. Participation in cervical screening cannot currently be measured nationally by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status with cervical cytology register data but there is evidence that this group is under screened.’

Of the women sent a 27-month reminder letter by a cervical cytology register in 2008, 32% rescreened within 3 months, indicating that this letter acts as a prompt for many women.

Only 15% of women with a negative Pap test result rescreened earlier than recommended, indicating that relatively few women rescreen more often than required.

‘In 2009, for every 1,000 women screened, 8 women had a high-grade abnormality detected—providing an opportunity for treatment before progression to cancer,’ Ms Sturrock said.

For women aged under 20 years, the rate of high grade abnormalities fell from 15 per 1,000 screened to 9 per 1,000 screened between 2004 and 2009.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 31 October 2011

Further information: Ms Christine Sturrock, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1118, mob. 0407 915 851

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: Cervical screening in Australia 2008­–2009