The New Screening Test To Reduce Cervical Cancer Risk

Until recently, Australian woman aged between 18 to 69 years were encouraged to get a Pap smear every 2 years.

The Pap smear was a routine test that looked for changes to cervical cells that could lead to cancer. Better screening via Pap tests contributed to reducing cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates in Australia by half since their introduction in 1991.

Now a new test is available that can identify a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer far earlier than the Pap smear could. That test is the Cervical Screening Test, and from December 2017, it has replaced the Pap smear test in Australia.

Why change the cervical screening process?

Since the Pap test was introduced back in the early 90s, we’ve learned that nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This new test looks for the HPV that could eventually turn cervical cells into cancer, instead of noting when the change has already begun.

The cervical screening test works in conjunction with the HPV vaccination program with the aim of eradicating cervical cancer in Australia by 2035[i].

How is the cervical screening test different than a Pap test?

The main difference between the two tests is that the Pap test was done once every 2 years, and the cervical screening test is done every 5 years. The two tests are otherwise a similar procedure from the patient’s perspective.

In both tests, a sample of cells from the cervix is taken and examined under a microscope. However, while the Pap test used to look for changes that were already happening in the cervix, the new test looks for the HPV infection that could cause cancer to develop before it even gets a chance to begin.

When should I get a cervical screening test done?

Women aged between 25 and 74 are encouraged to get a cervical screening test every 5 years.

All women over 25 who have been sexually active are due for their first cervical screening test 2 years after their last Pap smear. Women with normal results will be due their next cervical screening test 5 years from then.

Why 5 years instead of two between tests?

HPV usually takes 10 or more years to develop into cervical cancer. Because the cervical screening test looks for this virus before it can cause cell changes, it is safe to wait for 5 years between tests.

What if I receive a positive HPV result?

It’s important to remember that having HPV does not necessarily mean you will get cervical cancer. For most women, the virus resolves in 1-2 years. However, additional tests will still be done, and your doctor will advise a testing routine moving forward to monitor the situation.

Where can I get more information?

If you have questions about the cervical screening program, or would like to schedule your next test, contact us at Breed Street Clinic on (03) 5176 1933.