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Nearly three and a half million women in Australia, aged 20 and over, had Pap smear tests in 2003-2004 says a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The tests were provided through the National Cervical Screening Program, which targets women aged 20 to 69 years and aims to achieve early detection of pre-cancerous abnormalities and reduce the numbers of cases which develop into cervical cancer.
Mr John Harding, Head of the Institute's Health Registers and Cancer Monitoring Unit, said participation in this target age group was 61% - about the same as the previous four years.
Participation was highest among women aged in their 40s and 50s, with two thirds of women being screened. However, among women aged 20-24 years it was only 48%.
Participation was also just under 50% among women aged 65 to 69 years.
'While participation in this group has been increasing, it is still low. This is a concern, as a quarter of new cases of cervical cancer detected each year are in women aged 65 years and over,' Mr Harding said.
The report, Cervical screening in Australia 2003-2004, shows that the number of new cases of cervical cancer has fallen from 1,091 in 1991 to 689 in 2002, with the age-standardised rate almost halving, from 17 per 100,000 women aged 20-69 to 9 per 100,000.
In addition, the number of deaths in this period fell from 329 in 1991 to 227 in 2002. This trend continued in 2004, with the latest mortality data showing a reduction in deaths to 212 and in the age-standardised rate to 1.8 deaths per 100,000 women.
'These numbers reflect that fact that early detection with Pap smear tests does work to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer,' Mr Harding said.