If you are like many women, the very thought of a having a pap smear is equivalent to hearing the sound of nails scraping down a blackboard….an unpleasant experience. From the 1st May 2017, the National Cervical Screening Program is changing to improve early detection and save more lives. Pap tests have already halved the incidence and mortality from cervical cancer since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program in 1991.
Prior to the upcoming changes, women aged between 18 and 69 years who have ever been sexually active had been advised to have a pap smear every two years. Major changes will see the Pap smear replaced with the more accurate Cervical Screening Test with the time between tests increasing from two to five years. The age screening starts will also increase from 18 to 25 years. According to the Cancer Screening website, evidence suggests that cervical cancer in young women is rare (in both HPV vaccinated and unvaccinated women) and despite screening women under 25 years for the past 20 years, there has been no change to the rates of cervical cancer or rates of death from cervical cancer in this age group.
The HPV vaccination has already been shown to reduce cervical abnormalities among women younger than 25 years of age.
The new Cervical Screening Test detects human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is the first step in developing cervical cancer. The actual procedure will not change, in which cells will be collected from the health care professional. While the current Pap test can detect abnormal cell changes, the new Cervical Screening Test will detect the HPV infection that can cause the abnormal cell changes, prior to the development of cancer.
Most HPV infections clear up by themselves without causing any problems however persistent genital HPV infections can cause cervical abnormalities, which, if they continue over a long period of time (more than 10 years), can lead to cervical cancer.
For more information go to cancerscreening.gov.au