Life Wellbeing New cervical cancer screening to phase out Pap smear test

New cervical cancer screening to phase out Pap smear test

cervical cancer HPV Pap smear
HPV DNA testing picked up 10 times more high-risk cervical abnormalities than other methods. Photo: Getty
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DNA screening that will soon replace the traditional Pap smear test for cervical cancer has been found to be “far more effective” and “will save lives”, according to new research.

A Cancer Council of NSW study, published in the PLOS Medicine journal, has provided evidence of the proven benefits to HPV (Human Papillomavirus) screening.

HPV screenings detected up to 10 times more high-risk cervical abnormalities.

This new screening will be available across Australia from December 1 and will likely replace the Pap smear test almost immediately.

What is a HPV screening?

Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF) chief Joe Tooma said the good news is that HPV screenings are “far more effective, efficient and will save 15 to 30 per cent more lives”.

However, women can still expect to have the same cervix swab when they go to the doctors, albeit not as frequently.

It is recommended women are screened every five years, compared with the current two years for a Pap test.

What has changed, however, is the subsequent analysis process when the swab reaches the labs.

“HPV is a virus that is almost as common as the common cold, 80 per cent of people are infected by a HPV and may not know because there are generally no symptoms,” Mr Tooma told The New Daily.

“But a small percentage of people aren’t able to get rid of the virus and over years can develop into cancer.

doctor patient
HPV screening is expected to save many more lives by detecting cancer early. Photo: Getty

“Almost all cervical cancers (99 per cent) are caused by HPV.

“Instead of looking at the swab under a microscope for abnormal cells, the HPV screening will detect whether or not the virus is present so that any problems can be detected much earlier, even before developing into cancer.”

Women aged 25 to 74 years old will be invited to undertake the test starting in December, with women aged 70 to 74 taking an exit test.

Victorian Cytology Service’s Dr Marion Saville said Australia would be the second country to introduce HPV screening to test for cervical cancer.

“It is unlikely the cost will change for women because most places bulk bill (in Victoria) but it varies across the country,” said Dr Saville, also an author to the study.

“If women in Victoria or South Australia are interested in accessing the screening prior to December 1, they can participate in our upcoming trial.”

Mr Tooma said about 43 per cent of Australian women do not take the current Pap smear test as often as advised.

The main reasons for avoidance include embarrassment, discomfort and complacency.

“Don’t wait until you’re 25 to develop a good relationship with a doctor,” Mr Tooma said.

“It is important to find someone you trust and have a discussion about reproductive health before booking in your first test.”

The ACCF offers a free text service to remind women to screen for cervical cancer, as well as a checklist to ensure the experience is a comfortable one.

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