A new cervical cancer test that will soon replace pap smears will save more lives, Health Minister Greg Hunt insists, as a 70,000-strong petition calls for it to be scrapped.
The biennial pap smear will become a thing of the past from May 1, replaced by a test sexually active women will need just once every five years from age 25, instead of 18.
That’s sparked fears by some that the less frequent testing will put lives at risk, but doctors stress this is not the case.
Almost 70,000 people have signed a change.org petition this week urging the federal government to scrap the change, labelling it a dangerous cost-cutting exercise.
The petition, to be handed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, raises concerns about the testing age being raised to 25, and the five-year gap between testing.
The petition is “woefully misinformed and misguided”, Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon has said.
Mr Hunt has written to those who’ve signed the petition on Thursday, insisting it’s wrong.
“What’s actually happening is that an old test is being replaced with a newer and far more effective test.
“This was recommended by Australia’s leading medical experts. They’ve told us the new test is so much more effective that it could reduce the incidence of cervical cancer by up to 30 per cent.”
Pap smears detect abnormal cell changes, but the new test detects human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, the cause of more than 99 per cent of all cervical cancer cases.
The rare cases of cervical cancer that won’t be detected by this test weren’t detected by pap smears either.
The man who developed the HPV vaccine that protects against cervical cancer, former Australian of the Year Professor Ian Frazer, insists the new test will be more convenient for women and just as effective at preventing cervical cancer.
“This program is better for the general public because it allows the same near 100 per cent protection against cervical cancer for women who fully participate in the program, but with less frequent testing,” he said.
Dr Gannon, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, says besides saving millions of women the discomfort and nuisance of testing every two years, the new regime will save tens of thousands of women from having to undergo minor cervical surgery to remove abnormalities detected by pap smears.
There was a clear association between these surgeries and premature births, he said, with evidence now suggesting most young women will clear the virus naturally without treatment.