Pap test rate lowest in a decade

Tuesday 24 August, 2010

Young women are increasingly shunning a life-saving test that can prevent cervical cancer, according to new statistics revealed by PapScreen Victoria today.

The proportion of young women in Australia aged 25-29 having Pap tests every two years, in line with national guidelines, has fallen by almost 10% since 1996-97.

In comparison, cervical screening rates amongst some groups of older women have increased by the same amount over the period.

"Only 1 in 2 Australian women aged 20-29 are having a Pap test every two years, compared to 2 in 3 older women, which is obviously concerning to us," said Kate Broun, PapScreen Victoria Manager.

In 2008-09 only 61.3% of Victorian women aged 20-69 had a Pap test, the lowest proportion for a decade and a 5.3% drop from a high of 66.6% in 2000-2001.

The new statistics have prompted PapScreen Victoria to launch a new advertising campaign called Peace of mind, designed to encourage younger women in particular to engage with the screening program, and take action to protect their health.

"Some younger women think that cervical cancer won't happen to them. Today we want to let them know it can, and does. We want all overdue women aged 18-70 who have ever been sexually active to put booking a Pap test at the top of their to-do list, even if they have had the cervical cancer vaccine," said Ms Broun.

"Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had regular Pap tests, yet Pap tests can prevent around 9 out of 10 cervical cancers."

"The new advertising campaign we're launching today acknowledges that Pap tests can be awkward, but emphasises that in return for this little piece of awkwardness every two years, women can have the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are doing everything possible to protect themselves from cervical cancer."

PapScreen Victoria also released new behavioural research today, shedding light on the reasons why women may not be having regular Pap tests.

Younger women surveyed were more likely to report that Pap tests were awkward, uncomfortable or painful, and were also more likely to report difficulty finding time for a Pap test.

Younger women were less likely to understand the purpose of Pap tests, and less likely to be able to identify the correct two-year screening interval.

Other groups surveyed who reported barriers to screening included women from lower socio-economic groups, women from rural Victoria and women who have never had a Pap test before.

Broun concluded: "This new behavioural research clearly identifies which women we need to communicate with, and the barriers to screening we need to overcome."

"Our new campaign Peace of mind has been designed to target these groups and these barriers, and we hope to see large increases in Pap test numbers over the coming months while the advert is on air, mirroring increases we have seen in recent years with previous campaigns."

Most doctors and over 400 specially-trained nurses across Victoria can take Pap tests. To find your nearest provider or for more information, visit the PapScreen Victoria website or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

Updated: 24 Aug, 2010