Back in May, the Federal Department of Health announced some quite significant changes to the National Cervical Screening Program.
In case you missed the news, here’s the deal: from May 2017, Aussie women will no longer have a pap smear every two years. Instead, we’ll undergo a new Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test for cervical cancer every five years.
Considering 80 per cent of Australian women with cervical cancer have not been screened regularly or at all, this is an important development. No, cervical screening isn’t considered a particularly pleasant experience — but it’s crucial for the early detection and treatment of cancer, so putting it off or avoiding it altogether really isn’t an option.
If you’re curious about what these changes will entail, Pathology Awareness Australia have answered 10 of the questions you’re probably mulling over.
1. How do I get tested?
Despite reports last year suggesting the traditional pap smear could potentially be replaced with a urine test, the HPV test uses the same process to collect cervical samples. A doctor or practice nurse will collect the samples and send them to a pathology laboratory for testing.
2. How does the test differ?
The collection process is the same as the current pap smear, but the actual testing is quite different. Currently, samples are examined under a microscope by a pathology professional, who looks for abnormal cells that could be cancerous or pre-cancerous. The HPV test is performed by a machine, operated by pathology staff, which specifically detects HPV.
3. Why have these changes been made?
HPV is present in the majority of cervical cancer cases, so detecting it can tell doctors if a woman is at higher risk before abnormal cells appear. Thanks to the introduction of the HPV vaccine for young women and young men, Australia's younger generations actually have a lower risk of cervical cancer — the Department of Health predicts this vaccination program, in combination with the new screening, could see cervical cancer rates drop by 15 per cent. (Post continues after gallery.)