New breast and cervical cancer reports bring good news

Two new national reports from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to be launched on Thursday by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Dr Michael Wooldridge show that Australia is doing well in the fight against breast and cervical cancers. The author of the reports Dr Paul Jelfs said that 'While both these reports show that progress has been made in the battle against breast and cervical cancer, they also show that screening is still not reaching all women in the target age groups'.

Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening in Australia 1996-1997 is the first national breast and cervical cancer screening report. In Australia the recommended screening interval is two-yearly - the report shows that 62% of the target age group (women aged 20-69 years) were screened for cervical cancer, and 52% of the target age group (women aged 50-69 years) were screened for breast cancer during the two years 1996 and 1997.

The report states that cervical cancer is one of the few cancers where screening detects pre-cancerous lesions; therefore potentially a large proportion of these cancers are preventable. The report shows that in 1995 a greater proportion of cervical cancers detected were found at a very early stage (micro-invasive) instead of at a more advanced stage when their prognosis is worse. Overall, the age-standardised mortality rate for cervical cancer declined from 4.4 per 100,000 women in 1983 to 2.9 per 100,000 women in 1996.

Early detection is also a critical factor in the treatment of breast cancer. The report shows the rate of new cases of breast cancer increased from 83.2 in 1990 to a peak of 101.1 per 100,000 women in 1995. The increase was due in part to the screening program and its ability to detect cancers sooner and at an earlier stage. There are early signs of a decline in breast cancer death rates, but the main impact of the screening program is likely to occur in the next 5-10 years.

The second new report Breast Cancer Survival in Australian Women 1982-1994 shows that women diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1990s had a better survival rate than those diagnosed in the 1980s. The relative survival proportion increased from 74% survival at five-years after diagnosis in 1982 to 79% in 1990.

The report also shows that age is a strong predictor of a women's survival chances - women diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s had a better relative survival than any other age group, and women in their 80s and 90s showed the worst relative survival proportions.

In the period 1988-1992 there was very little difference in the 5-year relative survival proportions for urban (79.3%) and rural areas (78.1%) - and both regions showed improved relative survival proportions over time.

1 December 1998


Further information: Paul Jelfs (both reports), ph. 02 6244 1140, Norma Briscoe (breast and cervical cancer screening), ph. 02 6244 1043, and Anne-Marie Waters (breast cancer survival), ph. 02 6244 1127

For media copies of the report: Lena Searle, ph. 02 6244 1032