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Nearly 6 in 10 women aged 20-69 participated in cervical screening in 2011-2012, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Cervical screening in Australia 2011-2012, shows that 58% of women in the target age group of 20-69 year olds participated in the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) in 2011-2012-similar to the participation rates of 57% in 2010-2011 and 58% in 2009-2010. This equates to more than 3.7 million women having a Pap test in the two-year period.

However, not all groups of women participated equally, with a clear trend of decreasing participation in cervical cancer screening with decreasing socioeconomic status.

'Participation rates in 2011-2012 ranged from 52% in areas of lowest socioeconomic status to 64% in areas of highest socioeconomic status,' said AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey.

Participation also differed across remoteness areas, although not as significantly as by areas of socioeconomic status.

'Participation was highest in Inner regional areas at 59% and in Major cities at 58%, while it was lowest in Very remote areas at 54%,' Mr Harvey said.

The NCSP aims to reduce cervical cancer cases, as well as illness and death from cervical cancer in Australia, through an organised approach to cervical screening aimed at detecting and treating high-grade abnormalities before possible progression to cervical cancer.

After the introduction of the NCSP in 1991, the incidence of cervical cancer and deaths from cervical cancer both halved in the following 10 years. They have since remained steady at around 9 new cases and 2 deaths per 100,000 women each year.

In 2012 for every 1,000 women screened, 8 women had a high grade abnormality detected, providing an opportunity for treatment before possible progression to cancer.

While participation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was not available, due to Indigenous status information not being collected on pathology forms, there is some evidence that this population group is under-screened.

'The incidence of cervical cancer in Indigenous women was more than twice that of non-Indigenous women, and death rates are 4 times the non-Indigenous rate,' Mr Harvey said.

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, 29 April 2014

Further information: Justin Harvey, AIHW, tel. (02) 6249 5057 or mob. 0450 677 562

Full publication: Cervical screening in Australia 2011-2012