Has anyone heard about the new changes to cervical screening due to start this year?
For years we have relied on the Pap smear program to screen Australian women and protect them against cervical cancer. This program, combined with HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination, has been hugely successful and Australia has the world’s lowest rate of deaths from this terrible disease.
I know women dread having a pap smear but I always say it is the most effective of all cancer screening programs because it detects tiny changes that are pre-cancerous. Any pre-cancerous changes detected can be effectively treated with the use of colposcopy and LLETZ procedures.
In December 2017 our system for cervical screening is set to become even better.
The Pap smear test involved collecting clumps of cells off the cervix and checking a slide (“smear”) of these cells for any that looked suspect. We have known for many years, however, that persistent HPV infection in the cervix is the cause of cervical cancer. The new test actually screens women for the presence of the HPV virus itself, rather than the abnormal cells that the virus causes.
This has been made possible by better HPV detection technology. The new technology means that the gap between tests can be increased from two years to five. Improved accuracy will lead to better detection of cancers and serious pre-cancerous cervical problems. There will also be fewer “false alarms”.
In the early stages of the new system, many Australian women will become aware of their HPV test status for the first time. Some women will test positive for “high-risk” HPV types even if they have had previously normal Pap smears. This is expected to create a temporary increase in the number of women requiring referral to a gynaecologist for further assessment.
Assessing these women needs to be quick and affordable. To help, we are removing out-of-pocket charges for patients referred with positive cervical screening tests. This involves an appointment with me in our fully equipped modern rooms either in Ballarat or Gisborne. Your GP will be able to refer you.
After December you will be invited to join the new screening program. Make sure you see your GP and stay protected from cervical cancer. For an appointment with me please contact our rooms here.