Pap smears are changing!! There are major changes happening to the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) starting on the 1st of December.
What does this mean for me?
The old Pap smear test will be replaced by the new Cervical Screening Test (CST).
The experience of having the test performed will be exactly the same from your perspective but once the sample has been collected by your doctor it will be tested for the presence of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) rather than abnormal cells.
Another big change is that the first test will be at the age of 25 and then it will be every 5 years (instead of every two years) until the age of 74. That is potentially only 11 tests in a lifetime rather than more than 25!
There is a new National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) that will record the results of all the Cervical Screening Tests and send reminders to you to see your doctor at the right time.
In a few situations, if you are age 30 or over, it may be possible to take a self-collected sample for the HPV test, but it is preferable that is performed by a health professional who can see the cervix when the sample is taken.
Why have these changes been introduced?
There have been many developments in our understanding of HPV and its role in cervical cancer as well as new technologies and vaccines to help prevent, detect and treat abnormal cells.
HPV is present at some stage in nearly all people who are sexually active. There are over 100 sub-types of HPV and some are much more likely to cause significant cell abnormalities to the cervix. These are called the high-risk types. More than 99% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection and the new CST detects the high-risk HPV types.
There are new vaccines that target the most common high-risk types and can prevent infection in the first place. Importantly, an HPV test every five years has been shown to be even more effective and just as safe as screening with a Pap test every two years.
Cervical cancer is rare in young women, and unfortunately 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 the national screening program being in place for over two decades. This means that screening below the age of 25 does not help reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women without symptoms.
What if I have symptoms?
It is imperative that women with symptoms such as abnormal bleeding or discharge at ANY age see there for doctor for assessment.
What if the test is positive?
If HPV is detected at the CST, your doctor will advise you what to do. Depending on the type of HPV identified you may need to have another screening test in 12 months or you may referred to a specialist for further investigation.