Only just over half of Australian women who should be screened for cervical cancer are being tested, figures reveal.
An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows participation rates in the national cervical cancer screening program fell in 2009-10, particularly in young women and those on low incomes.
Only 57 per cent of women aged 20 to 69 had Pap smears compared with 59 per cent in the previous year, the first significant fall after steady rates since 2004. The number of women aged 20-24 tested fell from 47 per cent to 42 per cent, but experts said Australia was one of the few countries that screened this age group.
Participation rates were highest in women in their late 40s, followed by women in their early 40s and 50s.
Some women's health experts have been worried that the introduction of the HPV vaccine, which protects against 70 per cent of cervical cancers, could be making women complacent about screening.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the vaccine program introduced for girls and young women in 2007 was likely to reduce rates of cervical cancer.
But its advice was still for women who had been sexually active to have two-yearly checks-up to the age of 70.
The AIHW said the fall in rates was likely to be partly because of rapid population rises, especially in WA and Queensland.
Although screening rates had fallen, detection of high-grade abnormalities remained high.
Overall, more than 3.6 million women were screened in 2009 and 2010 and among them cervical cancer was found in nine women per 100,000.
The rate of deaths was also low by international standards, at two deaths per 100,000 women.
AIHW spokeswoman Chris Sturrock said the likelihood of women being screened increased with their socioeconomic status.
"Among women residing in the areas of lowest socioeconomic status participation was 52 per cent, whereas in areas of highest socioeconomic status it was 63 per cent," she said.
She said it was a concern that rates of cervical cancer were twice as high in Aboriginal women and their risk of dying from the disease was five times higher. DID YOU KNOW? 627 The number of new cases of cervical cancer a year in Australia