Did you know that 90% of the most common form of cervical cancer can be prevented through regular cervical screening? This makes cervical cancer one of the most preventable cancers.
The number of people who have developed or died from cervical cancer have halved since the introduction of the National Cancer Screening Program in Australia in 1991. There are some changes to the Program that you need to know that may save your, or someone you knows, life.
A snapshot of the changes to the National Cervical Screening Program The new Cervical Screening Test that was introduced in the Renewal of the National Cervical Screening Program is more accurate than the Pap test and is expected to protect up to 30% more women.
The new Cervical Screening Test has replaced the two yearly Pap test. The test is free for people aged 25 to 74 years of age and because it is more accurate, screening is only needed every five years.
For most people aged 25 to 74 years of age their first Cervical Screening Test will now occur two years after their last Pap test. People under 25 years of age will be invited to screen three months before their 25th birthday as the evidence shows it is safe for them to wait until then.
The changes to the cervical screening program. Courtesy: Australian Government, accessed 12 July 2018
If their Cervical Cancer Screening Test result is:
normal (no HPV detected) - they will repeat the test every five years
abnormal (HPV detected) - their health care provider may recommend a colposcopy, a procedure using a colposcope (a special microscope) to closely examine the cervix and determine whether further treatment is required.
Why has the screening interval changed from 2 to 5 years? The new Cervical Screening Test detects HPV, a common virus that has been linked to cell changes in the cervix. Infection with HPV may lead to the development of cervical cancer over a 10 year period in some cases. If HPV is found in the sample, it will be tested to see if it shows any cell changes and if further tests are required.
Because of the slow development of cervical cancer from HPV infection and the accuracy of the test, it is safe for women to be screened every five years if they do not have a current HPV infection.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer There are not usually any signs or symptoms of cervical cancer until the disease is in its advanced stage, which is why regular cervical screening to detect HPV is so important.
When the disease is more advanced people can experience symptoms such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge and/or pelvic pain.
Regular cervical screening can prevent this cancer.
What is the Cervical Screening Test? The Cervical Screening Test is a simple procedure that feels similar to the Pap test, but tests for HPV. HPV is a common virus and some types have been linked to changes to cells in the cervix, which can develop into cervical cancer. Detecting HPV infection early allows healthcare providers to monitor the infection and intervene if there are any changes to cells in the cervix.
Cervical cancer involves changes to the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus which protrudes into the vagina
How is the new test more accurate? The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate at detecting HPV, which can lead to changes in the cervix, whereas the Pap test looked for the cell changes in the cervix.
What do you do if you are due for screening or have symptoms? If you are due for screening contact your healthcare provider to book an appointment.
If, at any age you experience symptoms, such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain or discharge, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.