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Why the new cervical cancer screening test is better than the old one

by rt staff writer in Women's health

If you have regular cervical screening tests, you are probably aware that it is no longer a requirement that women be tested every two years, now once in five years is recommended.

The reason being is that the old screening test, most often called the Pap test or smear test, was used to look for cell changes in the cervix. The new Cervical Screening Test – which is more effective – looks for HPV (human papillomavirus) which is a common infection spread during sexual activity, that can lead to those cell changes. This is detected at a molecular level.

The fact that there is now an HPV vaccine available, means women diagnosed with HPV can be treated for the infection. This vaccine also protects up to nine types of HPV, including those that cause around 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

As the HPV vaccine does NOT protect against approximately 30 per cent of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, vaccinated women still need to have regular (every five years) cervical screening.

Who should get a Cervical Screening Test?

You are eligible to be tested if you:

  • Are aged between 25 and 74
  • Have ever been sexually active
  • Have a cervix.

The aim of the program is to reduce illness and death from cervical cancer in women in Australia. You can find out more on the Government Department of Health website, whether you should get a Cervical Screening Test.

Although the new program is more accurate, and more convenient for women who now only need to be tested every five years, the Pap smear program has been a huge success since it was first introduced. Between 1991 and 2002 it is credited with almost halving the incidence of cervical cancer in Australia from approximately 13 cases per 100,000 women in 1991 to seven cases per 100,000 in 2002.* This is in spite of the fact that not all Australian women had pap smear tests and those that did often did not get tested at the recommended two-yearly intervals.

More about HPV

The Human papillomavirus infection (HPV infection) is often asymptomatic and 90 per cent of HPV infections resolve without treatment within two years. But the reason screening is necessary is that when an HPV infection persists, it can result in genital warts or precancerous lesions, which increase the risk of cancer of not just the cervix, but other parts of the body, including the vulva, vagina, anus, mouth, tonsils and throat.

So even though most women now only need to get tested once every five years, don’t be tempted to put it off. Regular screening is vital in detecting cervical cancer and helping guard against HPV infections and their often unpleasant outcomes.

* https://www.phrp.com.au/issues/july-2017-volume-27-issue-3/history-development-and-future-of-cancer-screening-in-australia/

DISCLAIMER

This wellbeing message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health – the health fund for transport and energy people. The health information provided here is intended to be informative only and should be carefully evaluated for its source, accuracy, completeness and relevance for your purposes. It is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. Always obtain appropriate professional advice relevant to your particular circumstances.

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