Changes to Pap Smear Testing

There’s good news for women as the biennial pap smear is being phased out in favour of a new test capable of detecting the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the virus responsible for over 99 percent of cervical cancers.

Cervical cancer is the number one killer of women in the world, with more than 800 Australian women being diagnosed with the deadly disease every year. In Australia, cervical cancer is the tenth biggest killer of women.

Cervical cancer testing will now be conducted every five years starting at the age of 25, rather than every two years, starting at the age of 18.

The new test was first developed by University of Sydney researchers Professor Brian Morris and Dr. Brian Nightingale over 20 years ago, and due to its increased accuracy does not require as frequent testing as the previous method of detection.

The new test, which was released in early December 2017, is expected to save hundreds of lives due to its ability to detect early signs of cancer.

While the less frequent testing will undoubtedly be welcome news, the actual method of sample collection will remain unchanged to the original Pap smear test. Plus, there will also be the option for women to undergo self-collection using a vaginal swab under the supervision of a qualified professional

Even though, the method used to collect a cell sample remains unchanged, the new HPV testing method does a few things differently to the previous Pap smear testing procedure.

A traditional Pap smear test involves collecting a cell sample from the cervix and examining the cells to determine if they are normal or pre-cancerous.

Instead of looking for changes in cells that indicate a pre-cancerous condition caused by the virus, the new test has been designed to detect the presence of the virus itself. This means it is a more accurate test and is also capable of earlier detection.

Changing the test to detect for the presence of the virus is a step before looking for changes that are visible in the cells, which may not happen for years after the patient has been infected with the Human Papillomavirus.

Mr Tooma, chief executive of the of the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation, says that recent health modelling indicates that HPV testing should result in a 30 percent reduction in cervical cancer-related deaths.

Many women have avoided Pap smears in the past for various reasons, but the implementation of self-collection will help women who are overdue for a test, or who have never undergone one, to take a vaginal swab themselves. Women are eligible to self-collect if they are aged 30 and over, have never had a screening test, or are two or more years overdue. Self-collection is done in private within a clinic or health facility.

Mr Tooma says that doctor collected samples provide greater accuracy, but self-collection will be a positive move towards making testing available to a greater portion of the population.

Most of the population will have HPV at some point in their lives as it is a common virus that is spread by genital-skin to genital-skin contact. This does not mean that all cases of HPV infection will develop into cervical cancer. In most women, the body will clear the infection all by itself.

Once your cell sample is examined and HPV is detected during the Cervical Screening Test, a further LBC (liquid-based cytology) test will be conducted on the cells to determine if any pre-cancerous changes have taken place. The two tests together will help determine a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer and a management program can be put in place.

If you would like to book a Pap smear test, please call Gynaecology Centres Australia on 02 9585 9599 where we will be able to direct you to one of our clinics convenient to your location. You can also contact us through our website at https://gcaus.com.au/contact-gca/

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