December 1 marks the national rollout of the new five-yearly Cervical Screening Test for women aged 25 to 74. The new test will replace the old two-yearly Pap smear which was previously offered to women from age 18.
The test follows the same method of sample collection as a Pap smear - so it'll feel the same. The difference lies in the way in which the sample cells are stored and tested.
The revived Cervical Screening Test will look for the presence of the human papillomavirus - the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer and is expected to lower cervical cancer cases and mortality rates by at least 20%.
Do I need a Cervical Screening Test?
If you are a woman between the ages of 25 and 74 and have ever been sexually active - yes, you need a Cervical Screening Test.
Your first Cervical Screening Test is due at 25 years of age OR two years after your last Pap smear test. If the result of your Cervical Screening Test is normal, your next test will be due in five years.
What is Human Papillomavirus?
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a virus that infects the skin and the lining of our bodies' cavities, for example - the cervix.
There are many different types of HPV and most of these are harmless. Approximately 12 types of HPV cause cancer - these are referred to as 'high risk' types.
How is HPV spread?
HPV that causes cervical and other cancers can be passed on during intimate skin-to-skin contact during sexual activities as well as sexual intercourse. It's a common infection which doesn't typically present symptoms and women can be exposed soon after becoming sexually active or sexually active with a new partner.
Using a condom can reduce the risk of getting HPV, but they won't completely protect you because they don't cover all of the genital skin.
Women who smoke have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer than those who don't smoke.
The impact of HPV vaccination and cervical screening program
In 1982, cervical cancer was the sixth most common cancer in Australian women and by 2013; this had fallen to the 14th most common cancer in Australian women. The decline can be attributed to effective and organised screening for cervical cancer.
Since 2007, girls aged 12-13 have been offered a vaccination against the two most common 'high-risk' types of HPV with boys joining the program in 2013.
In 2018, both boys and girls will be offered the nine-valent (nonavalent) HPV vaccine which will protect against even more cancer-causing types of HPV.
In the future, the HPB vaccination program will further reduce the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths in Australia as well as other HPV-related cancers. It can also indirectly protect unvaccinated individuals through herd immunity.
Where can I find more information?
For more information about the new Cervical Screening Test of cancer-related issues, give our Cancer Nurses a call on 13 11 20.
• Department of Health, National Cervical Screening Program FAQs
• Department of Health, National Cervical Screening changes
• WA Department of health
• Cancer Council Australia