The very high incidence of cervical cancer in Northern Territory Indigenous women has fallen by half since the early 1990s, partly as a result of increased participation in Pap Test screening, according to new research published by the Menzies School of Health Research (MSHR) and the NT Department of Health and Community Services (DHCS).
The work, published by Dr Philippa Binns of the NT Centre for Disease Control and MSHR’s Dr John Condon, has shown that the Northern Territory Women’s Cancer Prevention Program (NTWCPP) has been effective in increasing the participation of Indigenous women in cervical cancer screening in remote communities and that this has contributed to a fifty percent reduction in mortality rates.
“In the early 1990s Indigenous women in the NT were eight times more likely to die from cervical cancer than Australian women generally” Dr Condon said.
“When the NT Pap Test Register commenced in 1997, only 34% of Indigenous women in remote NT communities were participating in Pap screening, compared to 64% of Australian women generally.
“The research shows that, by 1999-2000, screening participation of Indigenous women in remote areas had improved from 34% to 44%, and has been maintained at almost this level since then.
“Together with improved access for women with abnormal Pap tests to specialist treatment by the Specialist Outreach Service, this has contributed to a fifty percent fall in incidence and mortality in recent years,” added Dr Condon.
In 1996 the NTWCPP was introduced to improve participation in cancer screening programs and to reduce incidence and death from cervical cancer in the Northern Territory.
However, the participation rate for Indigenous women is still well below the national level and needs to continue to improve before the excess of cervical cancer in Indigenous women will be completely eliminated. The research found that this is possible, with screening participation in communities in one region 10% higher than the national rate.
“We need to look at why these communities have such high participation rates and how further improvements for Indigenous women can be achieved by learning from these communities, to further close the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women” Dr Condon added.