While cervical cancer rates continue to improve, data released this Cervical Cancer Awareness Week highlights more women in NSW need to prioritise cervical screening.
Almost one million eligible women in NSW have not had their Pap test in the past two years, or have never had one, new data from the Cancer Institute NSW shows.
A Pap test can detect the early signs of cervical cancer, reducing the risk of being diagnosed with the disease.
Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, November 7-13, was an important reminder for women who are overdue to see their GP and have a Pap test that could potentially save their life.
Professor David Currow, NSW Chief Cancer Officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW, urges eligible women not to be complacent.
“These days, women are less likely to know someone who has been diagnosed with the disease, so they may not feel they are at risk,” Professor Currow says.
“Five women still get diagnosed with cervical cancer every week in NSW, yet 96 per cent of cervical cancers could be prevented by regular screening.”
What do rates tell us about cervical cancer?
In Australia, rates of cervical cancer have halved over the last 25 years due to the National Cervical Screening Program and the introduction of the HPV vaccine.
In 2012 over 250 women in NSW were diagnosed with cervical cancer, making up 1.4 per cent of all cancer diagnoses in the state.
In women around the world, however, cervical cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer.
The National Cervical Screening Program recommends that all women who have ever been sexually active have a Pap test every two years commencing at age 18, or one to two years after first sexual activity, whichever is later.
Supporting cervical screening is an important part of increasing cancer survival, a key goal of the NSW Cancer Plan.
The National Cervical Screening Program is changing soon – what happens for now?
There are changes to the National Cervical Screening Program due to start mid 2017, however it does not impact how women should treat screening now.
Professor Currow says that until the new program is implemented, it is vital that women have their Pap test as soon as it’s due.
“This is the best chance women have of finding and treating cellular changes before cancer develops,” he says.
“It is important women don’t wait for the new screening program out of a belief that it might be a different procedure.”
Professor Currow also explains that the changes to the new program will not change the actual procedure for women.
“The changes are primarily what is tested for and how it is analysed in the lab, rather than a change to how doctors take the sample.”