Results of the Cervical Screening Program

Australia has one of the lowest incidences of cervical cancer in the world, a result commonly attributed to a screening program that recommends women aged between 18 and 69 years who have ever been sexually active have Pap tests every two years and sends them reminder letters when tests are overdue.

The mission of the NSW Cervical Screening Program is to achieve optimal reductions in the incidence of, and mortality and morbidity attributed to, cervical cancer at an acceptable cost to the community. The screening program has been supporting NSW women in their efforts to avoid cervical cancer since it was introduced in 1991.

Cervical cancer statistics

  • In 2009, cervical cancer was the 16th most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian women. Risk of diagnosis was one in 164 by age 85 years.
  • In 2016, it is estimated between 9 and 10 new cases will be diagnosed for every 100,000 Australian women. This is about half the new diagnoses prior to 1991, before the organised screening program was introduced.
  • The latest statistics show 2 cervical cancer-related deaths were recorded for every 100,000 women in 2012.

The fact that Australia has the second-lowest incidence of cervical cancer in the world among countries with comparable registration systems is largely due to the screening program. In the Australian Government’s Screening to Prevent Cervical Cancer Guidelines, the low incidence of cervical cancer in Australia is described as a “remarkable achievement” that can be “largely attributed” to the National Cervical Screening Program.

Program participation

In the two-year period between 2012 and 2013, more than 3.8 million women participated in the program in Australia. This was equivalent to 58% of eligible Australian women aged 20 to 69 years. Between 2012 and 2013 in NSW, 57.7% of eligible NSW women (approximately 1.4 million women) participated in the program.

Screening results

In 2014, 5.7% of women in Australia received abnormal results, with 1.4% indicating a definite and possible high-grade abnormality. This equates to between 8 and 9 women having high-grade abnormalities for every 1,000 women tested between the ages of 20 and 69 years. Screening provides the opportunity for these women to receive suitable treatment before the abnormalities possibly developed into cervical cancer.

Of the women in Australia sent a reminder letter in 2013, approximately 33% rescreened within three months, indicating that the letter is an effective recall and reminder prompt for women.

Cervical Screening Reports


The Cancer Institute NSW Publications Library is a comprehensive source of detailed cancer information and reports. 

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