Cervical cancer still falling, but higher screening rates sought

The number of new cases of cervical cancer in Australia continues to fall, but there is room for improvement in the rates of cervical screening, says a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Cervical Screening in Australia 2001-2002, the sixth annual report on the National Cervical Screening Program, shows that across all age groups there were 745 new cases of cervical cancer detected in Australia in 2000. This compares with 1072 new cases detected in 1989, prior to the start of the National Cervical Screening Program.

Cervical cancer is the 18th most common cause of cancer death in women, accounting for 227 deaths in 2002.

Report author Janet Markey said that the Program had been very successful in achieving its goal of screening to detect abnormalities of the cervix early, so that medical intervention could stop possible progression to cancer.

'Abnormalities were detected in about 1.8% of all Pap smears performed in 2002 or over 33,000 in total,' Ms Markey said.

'Successful early detection has contributed to a halving of the incidence of cervical cancer in women aged 20-69 years between 1982 and 2002, and a 61% drop in the death rate over the same period.'

The report shows that the participation rate of women in the program's 20-69 years target age group was stable at 61.0% for the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 reporting periods, with 3,331,013 women screened over 2001-2002 two-year period.

This was less, however, than the 63.4% participation rate recorded in 1998-1999 and 61.3% recorded in 1999-2000.

Ms Markey said that to some extent the decline in screening rates was a reflection of better accuracy in the measurement of screening program participation rates-for example better methods of removing double counting of women who had been tested in more than one State, and better methods of accounting for and excluding, from the calculations, women who had had hysterectomies.

But there is still scope for higher screening rates, said Ms Markey.

'This is of particular importance among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Cervical cancer incidence was higher among Indigenous women than among non-Indigenous women in Queensland and the Northern Territory (the only jurisdictions for which adequate data were available).

'And our data show that the cervical cancer mortality rate for Indigenous women aged 20-69 years was almost six times the corresponding rate for non-Indigenous women.'

18 November 2004

Further information: Ms Janet Markey, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1053, or Dr Chris Stevenson, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1041 or mobile 0407 915 851.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032