May 23, 2008
New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) show rates of Pap smears among younger women have dropped by as much as 15 percent over the last decade.
The AIHW report showed in 2005 and 2006, about 56 percent of women in their late 20s got a Pap smear compared to 65 percent a decade earlier. A similar decline was seen among women in their early 20s and 30s.
The data were gathered prior to the introduction of the human papillomavirus vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix, which protect against the two HPV types linked to 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. Universal HPV vaccination is expected to dramatically decrease cervical cancer rates in women who receive either vaccine, but AIHW officials say all women still need to have Pap smears.
"The need for women to have regular Pap tests remains as important as ever, despite the significant advance of the new cervical cancer vaccination," said Dr. Paul Magnus, AIHW's medical adviser. Women should undergo biennial screening even if they have been vaccinated against HPV, according to health officials.
But Dr. Gerry Wain, former director of the New South Wales cervical screening program, said the report shows women and doctors understand cervical cancer prevention better than policy makers. "They know from going back time and time again for smears that it's just not necessary to get them that often," said Wain, a gynecological-oncologist at Sydney's Westmead Hospital.
Wain supports changing the guidelines to screening every three years, as recommended by the World Health Organization.