This week is Cervical Cancer Awareness Week (16-22 November 2020).
We have issued a call for Western Australian women to act now to get up to date with their cervical screening following new data that shows a 54 per cent decrease in the screening rate between January and June 2020 compared to 2019.
The report, Cancer Screening and COVID-19 in Australia, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows that between January to June 2020 there were 38,756 cervical screening tests completed compare to 85,019 for the same period in 2019.
Our Cancer Prevention and Research Director, Melissa Ledger, said the reported decline was a timely reminder to talk to women about their cervical cancer screening.
"The national cervical screening program has seen a decrease in participation in 2020 and while this decrease was expected due to the program transitioning from the two-yearly Pap smear to the five-yearly cervical screening test, it is likely the reduction could be a result of the COVID-19 lockdown," Ms Ledger said.
"We know that less people attended face-to-face appointments with their GP, and therefore it is likely that fewer cervical screening tests were completed. "This is concerning as it means there is a sizable portion of women who could now be overdue for screening."
Another recent AIHW report showed 90 per cent of those diagnosed with cervical cancer were women who had never been screened or had not screened for some time. "We know cancer screening helps find cancer earlier so treatment can start before the cancer reaches a more advantaged stage, giving people a better chance of survival," she said.
Ms Ledger said anyone with a cervix between the age of 25 and 74 years (regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated for HPV) should have regular Cervical Screening Tests as part of their ongoing health and wellbeing checks.
"If people with a cervix delay their cervical screening, there is a chance a pre-cancerous abnormality may develop into cancer or an early cancer may develop to a stage that is more difficult to treat," she said.
"It will be sometime before we know the full effect of COVID-19 pandemic on cancer screening, so we are urging people to stay up to date with their screening during cervical cancer awareness week. "If it has been sometime since they have had a cervical screening or if they have never had one, it is important to make a time to speak to your GP."
The Australian Government anticipated a drop in breast, bowel and cervical screening in the first half of 2020, and invested in our $2.2 million Cancer Screening Saves Lives campaign to combat this drop and encourage more people to screen.
"If you are due to participate in any cancer screening program, and have delayed due to COVID, now is the time to get it done and tick cancer screening off your to do list," she said.