Cervical cancer cases and deaths in Australia remain very low by international standards, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The report, Cervical screening in Australia 2012-2013, shows there were 682 new cervical cancer cases diagnosed in 2011, and 143 women died from cervical cancer in 2012.
“This is equivalent to between nine and 10 new cases of cervical cancer and two deaths from cervical cancer per 100,000 women each year,” says AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey.
Overall, both incidence and mortality halved between the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program in 1991 and 2002, but these reductions have not applied in equal measure to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
“For Indigenous women, the rate of new cases of cervical cancer was twice that of non-Indigenous women, with death rates 4 times as high,” Harvey says.
In 2012-2013, more than 3.8 million, or nearly six in 10, women aged 20 to 69 (the target age group) participated in the NCSP: a level unchanged from the previous two years.
The report also showed a clear trend of increasing participation with increasing socioeconomic status, with rates ranging from 52% in areas of lowest socioeconomic status to 64% in areas of highest socioeconomic status.
In 2013, for every 1,000 women screened, between eight and nine women had a high-grade abnormality detected – figures also unchanged from previous years.
“One interesting finding, however, is that the detection of high grade abnormalities reached historically low rates in 2013 for women aged under 20, and those aged 20-24,” says Harvey.
“This is largely due to the introduction of the National Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination Program in schools for young girls in 2007 – and subsequent extension to teenage boys – as vaccination can prevent infection of cervical cells with HPV that lead to abnormalities.”
Cervical cancer is a rare outcome of persistent infection with one or more of the cancer-causing types of HPV, and is a largely preventable disease. Vaccination and screening are the main prevention strategies implemented in Australia.
“These strategies are effective because most types of cervical cancer have a precancerous stage, lasting for many years prior to the development of invasive disease.
“This provides an opportunity for early detection and treatment,” Harvey says.
Current policy recommends two-yearly Pap tests for vaccinated and unvaccinated women.