Australian Government Department of Health
National Cervical Screening Program
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About the Program

To achieve optimal reductions in the incidence of, and morbidity and mortality attributable to, cervical cancer at an acceptable cost to the community.

Program overview

The National Cervical Screening Program aims to reduce morbidity and deaths from cervical cancer, in a cost-effective manner through an organised approach to cervical screening. The program encourages women in the target population to have regular Pap smears.

In 1988, the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council established the Cervical Cancer Screening Evaluation Steering Committee to examine cervical screening. In light of their findings, the Committee recommended health authorities establish an organised approach to screening which would provide better protection against cervical cancer. In 1991, the Organised Approach to Preventing Cancer of the Cervix was established as a joint initiative of the Australian and state and territory governments. In 1995 it was renamed the National Cervical Screening Program.

The program promotes routine screening with Pap smears every two years for women between the ages of 18 (or two years after first sexual intercourse, whichever is later) and 69 years. Policies relating to the National Cervical Screening Program can be viewed NCSP Policies activate link once site area created.

The program seeks to integrate all elements of the cervical screening process. In particular, it aims to:
  • demonstrate an increase in the percentage of eligible women who have ever been screened;
  • establish more reliable and accessible services for taking, interpreting and reporting Pap tests;
  • improve management of screen detected abnormalities; and
  • monitor and evaluate these preventive efforts.
The program includes: implementation and monitoring of adherence to a nationally agreed screening policy; establishment of cervical screening registers in each state and territory; and development and enhancement of other quality management strategies across the screening pathway.
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The screening pathway involves the following steps:
  • encouraging all eligible women to enter and remain in the screening program;
  • ensuring optimal quality of Pap smears by adequate training of Pap smear takers;
  • ensuring optimal quality of Pap smear reading through a quality assurance program for laboratories;
  • ensuring appropriate followup of abnormal Pap smears through management guidelines;
  • providing an efficient system for notifying results to women by Pap smear providers;
  • providing recall and reminder systems to ensure adequate followup of women with screen-detected abnormalities; and
  • maintaining women’s participation in the program by encouraging providers to set-up reminder systems, and developing cervical screening registers and national cancer data.
Each of these measures is integral to the national approach to cervical cancer prevention.

The National Cervical Screening Program is a joint program of the Australian and state and territory governments. Major policy decisions about the program are determined through the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC).

The Screening Subcommittee is a subcommittee of the Australian Population Health Development Principal Committee (APHDPC). The APHDPC reports to AHMAC and coordinates the development and implementation of national strategies relating to primary and secondary prevention of chronic diseases. The Screening Subcommittee is a jurisdictional committee comprised of Australian and state and territory government representatives. The role of the Screening Subcommittee is to oversee implementation, evaluation, monitoring and program policy issues for the National Cervical Screening Program and BreastScreen Australia and to provide advice on jurisdictional issues in relation to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. The Screening Subcommittee has included a review of cervical screening policy on its work plan

Monitoring and evaluation for quality improvement

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) publishes regular monitoring reports on the National Cervical Screening Program. To support quality and consistency in national reporting, the AIHW has developed a set of program performance indicators for use by all states and territories.

Australian laboratories performing cervical cytology are required to use standardised reporting terminology, developed with the relevant Australian medical professional associations. A set of performance measures has also been introduced, against which laboratories are assessed as part of the formal accreditation process.

Program reporting and monitoring has been strengthened by the establishment of cervical screening registers which operate in all states and territories. The registers have a key role in quality assurance by providing back-up reminders to women for routine screening and followup of abnormal Pap smears. They also provide clinical information and performance data to medical practitioners and pathology laboratories.

Page currency, Latest update: 18 November, 2013