Changes to cervical cancer screening

Good news for women who don’t enjoy their two-yearly Pap test (so, basically all women): from 1 May 2017, the old Pap smear will be no more. Following advances in technology and medical research, the National Cervical Screening Program will implement a number of changes to improve early detection and save more lives. The first order of business is to replace the Pap Smear with the more accurate Cervical Screening Test. So, what does the change mean for you?

The new Cervical Screening Test will screen for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

Whilst the procedure itself will remain much the same, the new test aims for an even earlier detection than in the Pap smear. While the current Pap test can detect abnormal cell changes, the new Cervical Screening Test aims to detect HPV infection which can cause these abnormal cell changes, prior to the development of cancer. In fact, 99.7 per cent of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection. However, it’s important to remember that HPV infection is very common and there are only certain strands of HPV that can, if persistent, develop into cervical cancer.

The time between tests will change from two to five years.

Perhaps the most noticeable of all the changes is that the new Cervical Screening Test will only need to be performed every five years, as opposed to the current two-yearly Pap test. The Medical Services Advisory Committee found that a HPV test every five years is even more effective than, and just as safe as, screening with a Pap test every two years. However, it is important that you remain on your current two-yearly Pap test schedule until the changes kick in on 1 May 2017.

The age at which screening starts will increase from 18 years to 25 years.

Thanks to a number of new pieces of evidence regarding rates of cervical cancer in young women, the new testing regime will begin for women 25 years of age. Research has found that cervical cancer is rare in young women, and that there has been no change in the rates of cervical cancer or rates of death from cervical cancer for women younger than 25 years of age despite screening for over 20 years. The HPV vaccination has been shown to reduce cervical abnormalities in women younger than 25 years of age.

Women aged 70 to 74 years will be invited to have an exit test.

Women between 70 and 74 years of age who have had a regular Cervical Screening Test will be recommended to have an exit HPV test before leaving the National Cervical Screening Program.

So, that’s it! From 1 May 2017, women over 25 will receive an invitation from the National Cervical Screening Register to participate in the new testing regime. Please remember to keep up with your current Pap smear schedule before these changes commence.

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