Cervical cancer death rates down 32% since start of national screening program

Cervical cancer death rates fell 32% in the seven years following the 1991 introduction of the National Cervical Cancer Screening Program, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, Cervical Screening in Australia 1997-1998, also shows that over the same time cervical cancer incidence fell by 19%.

In 1997-1998 over 2.72 million women were screened for cervical cancer or related abnormalities-64% of the target group (women aged 20-69 years). This was a 3% increase on the 1996-1997 participation level.

But it's not all good news, according to AIHW Health Registers and Cancer Monitoring Unit Head Dr Paul Jelfs.

'One area of concern, where improvements have not been achieved, is among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

'Data from Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory show that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a cervical cancer death rate that is over nine times that of non-Indigenous women'.

Dr Heather Mitchell, Chair of the National Cervical Screening Program Advisory Committee, says that the figures show that there is room for overall improvement.

'While much has been achieved so far, we could obtain further falls in cervical cancer incidence and deaths if we could lift screening participation rates some more.

'Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers where screening detects pre-cancerous lesions. These lesions are like early warning signals, and treating the lesions early helps prevent a large proportion of cervical cancers.'

Other facts contained in Cervical Screening in Australia 1997-1998 include:

  • Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cause of cancer death in women in Australia, accounting for 269 deaths in 1998.
  • In 1997-1998 cervical cancer screening programs detected over 10,000 women with high-grade abnormalities requiring treatment. Detection rates were higher in younger age groups than in older age groups.
  • 47% of women had smear tests more often than recommended, i.e. one or more additional tests within two years following a negative smear.

To ensure that early warning signals of cervical cancer are detected, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that women who have ever been sexually active have a Pap smear every two years unless otherwise advised by their doctor.

11 September 2000


Further information: Dr Paul Jelfs, AIHW, tel. 04 0171 8939 (mob.). Interviews with Dr Heather Mitchell can be arranged through Nigel Harding, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1025 (bh) or 04 2968 8834 (mob.).
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.

Note: Cervical Screening in Australia 1997-1998 will be launched by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Dr Michael Wooldridge, at 10 am, 11 September 2000, at the Well Women's Centre, Royal Women's Hospital, Grattan St, Carlton, Melbourne. All media welcome.