A recent survey by the Department of Health on women with cervical cancer showed that more than half had not had a pap smear test in the past six years, while close to half had never been tested.
The Bureau of Health Promotion said that while cervical cancer had dropped from the eighth most prevalent form of cancer in Taiwan in 2008 to tenth last year, the situation would probably improve even further if more women had pap smears.
The bureau said the recent improvement was most likely the result of efforts to increase public awareness of the importance of pap smear tests and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.
The survey showed that of the women who were newly diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007, 63 percent had not had a pap smear test in the past six years, while 46 percent had never been tested.
Comparing the figures with women who were not diagnosed with cervical cancer, the bureau found that in the healthy group, only 35 percent had not received a pap smear in the past six years and only 25 percent had never been tested.
Bureau Director-General Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑媞) said that since the bureau started encouraging women to undergo pap smear tests in 1995, the rate of occurrence and death from cervical cancer had decreased by as much as 50 percent.
However, there are still 1.6 million women over the age of 36 who have not had a pap smear in the past six years.
The bureau is working to increase the number of women willing to be tested by offering free HPV tests to women over the age of 36 who have not had a pap smear test recently.
Eligible women can pick up a HPV test kit at local health bureaus and conduct the test themselves.
Women who test positive for HPV are strongly urged to undertake pap smear and other tests at a hospital as soon as possible, to prevent the development of cervical cancer at the earliest possible moment, the bureau said.
The bureau said that women should have regular pap smears, and urged younger women to get the HPV vaccine.
Two HPV vaccines have been approved by the Department of Health and are 100 percent effective in preventing HPV strains 16 and 18 for more than four years.