Cervical screening is an important part of healthcare for women aged 25 years or older, but you might not be familiar with the process behind it.
Since December 2017, the cervical screening test has replaced the Pap test as one of the leading ways to prevent cervical cancer. The Department of Health has reported that this new test is nearly one third more effective at picking up on cervical cancer.
So, here is all you need to know about the new Cervical Screening Test.
What is a cervical screening test?
The cervical screening test takes cells from your cervix and tests them for human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that is spread through sexual activity. An HPV infection can develop into cervical cancer, which is why it’s important the test looks for this.
You may be familiar with the term pap smear, which was the previous test used to detect cervical cancer. The new cervical screening test is projected to be 30% more effective, as the test looks for HPV specifically, not just changes and abnormal cells in the cervix like the old Pap test.
How is the test conducted?
For the test, you will lie on your back with your knees bent, the doctor or nurse will insert the speculum into your vagina so they can see your cervix. A brush will be inserted and used to take a sample of cells from the cervix.
Next, the sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. Once they’ve been analysed, your doctor will contact you to discuss your results. If your test results come back normal, your next test will be in 5 years. If your results are abnormal your doctor will discuss ongoing care with you.
In some cases where the lab is unable to analyse the sample, you will have to have a new cervical screening done.
Who needs to get a cervical screening test?
If you have a cervix and are between the ages of 25-74, it is recommended that you have a cervical screening test every five years.
If you have previously had a Pap test, you will need to get your cervical screening test 2 years after your last Pap test. Once you’ve had your cervical screening you will only have to get one every 5 years if your tests are normal.
If you have had the HPV vaccine, you will still need to get the test once you’ve turned 25. While the vaccine has done an effective job at limiting the number of cases of cervical cancer, the vaccine does not protect you against all types of HPV.
Where can you go for your cervical screening?
Your cervical screening can be done through your doctor, nurse or health worker. There are a whole variety of places you can get the test done Australia-wide. You can go to your local GP, a community or women’s health centre, sexual health and family planning clinics as well as an Aboriginal Medical Service. It is up to you where you feel the most comfortable going.
You can discuss with your health professional whether you are eligible for self-collection.
The test is provided for free under the National Cervical Screening Program, but you may need to pay for the consultation with your health professional.
You can find more information, and sign up to be reminded at the National Cancer Screening Register.
Dr Kelvin Larwood is a qualified obstetrician-gynecologist specialising in women’s health and fertility, you can find out more about his work and his Practice here.