The National Cervical Screening Program, otherwise known as a Pap smear, aims to detect abnormalities of the cervix thereby preventing development of cervical cancer.
Since its introduction in 1991, rates of cervical cancer have halved, but new evidence and better technology have enabled development of a new screening process that will improve early detection further and save more lives.
As a result, the program will change from December 1, 2017. It is important for women to know and understand the changes which are to come into affect.
From December 1, Pap smears will be replaced with human papillomavirus (HPV) testing.
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HPV is a common infection in females and males of which there are more than 100 types.
It can affect different parts of the body with types 16 and 18 most commonly associated with cervical cancer.
While come infections can clear themselves, persistant cervical abornomalities, if continued over a long period of time, can lead to cervical cancer.
The starting age will change from 18 years to 25 years, with evidence over the last 20 years showing screening has not changed rates of cancer in women under 25.
Screening will start two years after the last Pap smear, and women will be invited to attend a screening if they are on the Screening Register.
Screening is recommended irrespective of receiving the HPV vaccine as there are other causes of cervical cancer not prevented by the vaccine.
The testing will also change from two to five yearly as evidence shows HPV testing every five years is more effective and just as safe as Pap testing every two years.
No change will occur to the procedure for sample collection and a final exit test will be offered to women aged 70 to 74 years.
Some of these changes may lead to further questions and you are encouraged to see your GP for further clarification.
The most important message however, is that this program is for screening of women with no symptoms.
Women of any age with unusual discharge, bleeding between periods or after sex, or pelvic pain should present to their GP for assessment, regardless of recent screening.
- Dr Penny Byford, of Yarrabilba Health Hub, is able to assist you in answering any questions you have about the new National Cervical Screening Program. Phone (07) 5603 1702 to book an appointment.