Early screening means fewer deaths from breast and cervical cancer

There has been a considerable decline in mortality from breast and cervical cancers in Australian women since the introduction of the BreastScreen Australia and the National Cervical Screening programs, according to the latest figures released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Earlier detection and treatment are considered to have contributed to this decline because of the high participation by women in the screening programs. Significant advances in diagnosis and treatment for these conditions also played a part in the mortality decline.

Over 1.5 million women participated in BreastScreen Australia screening in 2000 and 2001. Of these women, just over 1 million were in the screening target age group of 50-69 years.

Over 3 million women participated in Pap smear screening for cervical cancer-related abnormalities during the same period, almost all of them (98%) in the target age range of 20-69 years.

Dr Chris Stevenson, of the AIHW's Health Registers and Cancer Monitoring Unit, said that early detection of breast cancer and of high grade abnormalities related to cervical cancer meant that treatment could commence earlier and be more effective. Breast and cervical cancers detected in the early stages were also less likely to spread to other parts of the body.

'In 2001, 65% of women with a screen-detected breast cancer in the target age group were women with early stage small cancers rather than the potentially more dangerous later-stage larger cancers. Women who had previously been screened had a higher proportion of small rather than larger invasive cancers detected than women who had not been screened before (67% compared with 56%).

There was an increase in breast cancer incidence rates for women in the target age group in 2001, while the mortality rate for the target age group declined from 67 deaths per 100,000 women in 1988 to 52 deaths per 100,000 women in 2001.

Mortality from cervical cancer declined by nearly 53% between 1982 and 2001 (from 6 deaths per 100,000 women in 1982 to 3 deaths per 100,000 women in 2001).

Dr Stevenson said, however, that some areas of concern remained.

'Although cervical cancer incidence and death rates have continued to decline in all areas of Australia, women in the target age group from remote locations experienced a relatively high mortality rate from cervical cancer-3 deaths per 100,000 compared with 2.3 deaths per 100,000 women in metropolitan areas.

'And the cervical cancer death rate for Indigenous women in the target age group was more than four times the corresponding rate in non-Indigenous women-11.4 deaths per 100,000 women compared with 2.5 deaths per 100,000 women.'

19 December 2003


Further information: Dr Chris Stevenson, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1041

For media copies of the reports: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032