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PapScreen Victoria celebrates its 18th birthday

Wednesday 24 June, 2009

Since PapScreen Victoria was established in 1991, one woman's life has been saved from cervical cancer every week.

So as the cervical cancer prevention program turns 18, with a birthday party attended by the Victorian Minister for Health the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP, there are hundreds of reasons to celebrate.

PapScreen Manager, Kate Broun said the program had significantly improved the lives of many Victorian women over its 18 year history.

"We know from research that without a cervical screening program, three times as many women would die from cervical cancer every year in Victoria.

"The program has also increased the lifespan of women with the disease. The median age of those dying from cervical cancer has jumped dramatically from 51 years in 1990 to 62 in 2006.

"There are many highlights from the past 18 years. We currently have close to 400 nurses in Victoria who are trained to take Pap tests; we fund a highly successful training program for medical students; and have developed successful educational and awareness campaigns motivating women to have Pap tests. And now we have witnessed the development and introduction of the world's first cancer vaccine, the human papilloma virus vaccine," said Ms Broun.

Mr Andrews praised the efforts of staff and said PapScreen had made a wonderful contribution to the health of Victorian woman.

"Victoria has the highest two-yearly cervical screening rate in Australia, but we need to continue to encourage more women to come forward and be tested every two years," Mr Andrews said.

Cervical cancer survivor and co-founder of the Cervical Cancer Support Group, Pennie Stoyles, believes a Pap test saved her life.

"A routine Pap test detected cancerous cells, and luckily, as the cancer was detected at an early stage, my treatment was effective and I have been cancer free ever since," said Ms Stoyles.

"It is as true today as it was 18 years ago; a Pap test every 2 years can save your life," added Ms Broun.

Key statistics

  • Since PapScreen began, there has been a 50 per cent reduction in cervical cancer incidence and mortality in Victoria.
  • Had rates remained as they were in 1990 (the year before PapScreen began), an additional 2,074 women would have been diagnosed with cervical cancer during the 18 years of PapScreen.
  • Had rates remained as they were in 1990, an additional 685 women would have died from cervical cancer during the 18 years of PapScreen.
  • In 1990 the median age of women diagnosed with cervical cancer was 48 years - this has risen to 59 years in 2006.
  • PapScreen has proudly achieved the highest two-yearly cervical screening rate in Australia at 64.4 per cent, well above the national average of 61.5 per cent.

History of cervical cancer prevention in Victoria

  • In 1964, Cancer Council Victoria (CCV) set up the Victorian Cytology Service to receive, read and report on Pap tests taken in Victoria.
  • In 1989, the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry was established with Commonwealth government funding as a result of lobbying by CCV and other key health organisations.
  • In 1991, PapScreen Victoria was launched; a communications and recruitment program funded by the Department of Human Services. CCV is responsible for PapScreen's initiatives.

History of the Pap test

  • Dr George Papanicolaou invented the Pap test in 1928.
  • Dr Papanicolaou's wife played an instrumental role in the development of the procedure, by allowing her husband to perform a Pap test on her every day for twenty years.
  • The Pap test was introduced to Australia in the 1950s.
  • The National Cervical Screening Program commenced in Australia in 1991 whereby encouraging all women aged 18 to 70 to have a Pap test every two years.

What does a Pap test detect?

  • Pap tests detect abnormal cervical cell changes on the cervix most commonly caused by the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV).
  • If cervical cell changes caused by high-risk HPV types are not detected and treated, they can become cancerous.

For women who have questions about cervical cancer or Pap tests please visit or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.