Who has Pap smears in New South Wales? Patterns of screening across sociodemographic groups


*Senior Research Fellow, Key Centre for Women's Health in Society, 211 Grattan Street, Carlton, Vic 3053. Fax (03) 347 4127.


Abstract: The aim of this study was to determine whether Pap smear screening at adequate intervals is associated with area of residence, frequency of consultations with a general practitioner, socioeconomic status and non-English-speaking background. A representative 10 per cent sample of women from New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, aged 25 to 69 years and registered with the Health Insurance Commission (Medicare) (N = 155 281) was used to obtain age, postcode, frequency of Pap smears and frequency of consultations with general practitioners in the three-year period from February 1985 to January 1988. Census data for each postcode area were used as an indicator of other sociodemographic characteristics. Age-specific screening rates did not vary between Sydney, Newcastle/Wollongong, Canberra, and nonmetropolitan areas. In all age groups, having had a smear was most strongly associated with the frequency with which a woman consulted a general practitioner. Women who visited a general practitioner at least four times a year on average were about twice as likely to have had a recent Pap smear as those who averaged less than one visit per year. Screening rates were lowest among women living in areas with the most non-English-speakers and the lowest socioeconomic status. Sociodemographic factors and health service usage patterns influence the proportion of women who are currently being screened. Evaluation of interventions to improve Pap smear screening rates should consider whether the percentage of women screened increases overall, and also whether the imbalances in screening rates between different groups are diminishing.