Macarthur women least likely to take life-saving cervical cancer test

Picture: Kirk Gilmour
Picture: Kirk Gilmour

Almost one million women across NSW are overdue for their Pap test, with western Sydney women least likely to have undergone the cervical cancer screening in the past two years.

Campbelltown had the lowest participation rate of all local government areas in greater Sydney, with 55.8 per cent of women overdue for the test.

Camden women came in seventh on list with only 48.7 per cent of eligible women having had regular Pap smears.

Orangeville local and president of the Australian Medical Association NSW, professor Brad Frankum said he was surprised and concerned by these statistics.

“Although rates of cervical cancer have dropped significantly since the vaccination was introduced, screening still requires active participation,” he said.

“Women who have not been vaccinated are still at risk of cervical cancer – and like anything else the vaccination is not 100 per cent.”

An estimated 912 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year.

More than one in four cervical cancer patients will die within five years of their diagnosis.

Professor Frankum said although screening could be invasive it was important for women to have regular Pap smears.

“It is very effective at catching any issues early,” he said.

Professor Frankum said there were a number of reasons that women may be avoiding having the test.

“Women may not be seeing the same GP regularly, they might just be popping into the medical centre,” he said.

“The second reason is they may not have access to a female GP.

“A lot of women feel more comfortable seeing a female doctor when it comes to having a Pap smear.

“Other reasons could be the level of health literacy and the diverse range of cultures and languages in this area.

“Perhaps the message isn’t being conveyed clearly to everyone.”

A new screening procedure was launched on December 1 which is designed to detect human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes the abnormal cell changes responsible for 99 per cent of cervical cancers, while the Pap test can only detect the abnormal cells once they have manifested.

The new test is expected to cut incidence and mortality rates by at least 20 per cent.

Women won't notice any difference at their screening appointment.

A doctor or nurse will take a small sample of cells from a woman's cervix and send it to a pathology laboratory for testing.

But the time between tests is now five years, instead of two years.

The program was a "win-win scenario" said director of research at Cancer Council NSW, Professor Karen Canfell.

Women will have access to a more accurate test, with fewer appointments with the speculum.

"It's not women’s favourite procedure, so the good news is they’ll need to go far fewer times and [they] still receive 20 per cent better protection," she said.

All women aged between 25 and 74 years who have ever been sexually active will need to be tested, instead of women 18 to 69 years.

Sydney's north and coastal suburbs had the highest screening rates, though more than one in four women were still overdue for their Pap test in the suburbs with the best participation results: Mosman (72 per cent), Woollahra (71.7) per cent, and Waverley (69.8 per cent).

Sydney areas with the lowest cervical cancer screening rates:

1. Campbelltown – 44.2 per cent

2. Blacktown – 46.1 per cent

3. Holroyd – 47.1 per cent

4. Penrith – 48.1 per cent

5. Auburn – 48.1 per cent

6. Liverpool – 48.3 per cent

7. Camden – 48.7 per cent

8. Burwood – 48.9 per cent

9. Strathfield – 49.4 per cent

10. Parramatta – 50.4 per cent

Sydney areas with the highest cervical cancer screening rates:

1. Mosman – 72 per cent

2. Woollahra – 71.7 per cent

3. Waverley – 69.8 per cent

4. Lane Cove – 69.3 per cent

5. Hunters Hill – 68.6 per cent

6. Pittwater – 68.5 per cent

7. Manly – 67.9 per cent

8. Leichhardt – 66 per cent

9. Warringah – 65.4 per cent

10. Ku-ring-gai – 64.8 per cent