Original article published here
With Pap smears set to change in Australia at the end of 2017, many people understandably have questions about what the changes will mean for them.
Never fear! SHQ is here!
WHY THE CHANGE?
Current Pap smears look for abnormal cell changes in the cervix, which can go on to develop into cancer. From December 2017, the two-yearly Pap smear will be replaced with a five-yearly Cervical Screening Test (human papillomavirus test, or HPV test).
Under the new program, women will be offered a HPV test every five years from 25 to around 70 to 74 years of age, instead of a Pap smear every two years from age 18 to 69.
The program is based on new evidence and technology that has improved the ability to detect changes to the cervix. Good news for women!
WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT ABOUT MY PAP SMEAR?
While the testing technology is different, having your test will be exactly the same for most women, and you won’t notice any difference – other than most women having a test less often. Woot!
IS THE NEW PROGRAM SAFE?
The new Cervical Screening Test is safe and effective, and will look for the cause of abnormal cells – the presence of HPV. Evidence shows the HPV test can provide greater protection against cervical cancer compared with a Pap smear alone. Win!
Women who test positive for higher risk types of HPV will be referred straight away for further investigation, while those with intermediate risk types of HPV will be asked to have another test in 12 months.
Women with a negative HPV test can be reassured that their risk of developing cervical cancer within the next five years is extremely low – lower in fact than for a Pap smear. This is why it is extremely safe to have a longer period of time between tests. Safety first!
WHAT WILL IT COST?
The cost of the new test will be covered by Medicare, however depending on who does the test, you may be required to pay a consultation fee. Please check with your health professional about costs when making your appointment.
I’M UNDER 25 – WHAT IF I GET CANCER BEFORE MY FIRST TEST?
Cancer is extremely rare in women under 25 years; even though we have screened Australian women under the age of 25 for over 20 years, there has been no change in the rates of cervical cancer in this age group.
Women with abnormal symptoms (eg bleeding) should see a health professional and have this investigated regardless of their age.
The HPV vaccination has already been shown to reduce cervical abnormalities in women under the age of 25, and is ultimately expected to reduce cervical cancer in this age group. More good news!
WHAT SHOULD I DO IN THE MEANTIME?
Continue with your two-yearly testing. If your test is due, or if you are overdue, make an appointment with a health professional as soon as possible.
Run don’t walk!