Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer rarely has symptoms in its early stages. Yet catching cancer early is crucial to survival. Cervical cancer rates in Australia have been cut in half since the introduction of the National Cervical Cancer Screening Program began in 1991.¹ Unfortunately, 80% of the women in Australia with cervical cancer did not undergo regular screening.
Who Should Get Screened for Cervical Cancer?
The recommendations for cervical cancer screenings as part of the well woman health screenings are undergoing some pretty big changes. The population that should be screened and the method of cervical cancer screening are both changing. Here is a quick summary of who should currently be screened:
We’re all familiar with the old 2-yearly Pap smears.
The new cervical screening test was enacted in December 2017 with a 5 yearly test between the ages of 25 and 74.
Research has shown that screening women under the age of 25 has had no change in the number of cases diagnosed or the number of cases resulting in the death of women in that age group.
How Do You Screen for Cervical Cancer?
The new screening will take place in much the same manner as the old PAP test screening. The sample is taken from your cervix by a clinician and tested by the lab for The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Various high-risk types of HPV are tested for. HPV types 16 and 18 are ‘automatically’ high risk and these women will require a referral for a colposcopy examination. Other types of HPV will automatically involve a further test of the sample for ‘abnormal cells’, and the result of this further test will determine the level of risk.
It takes over 10 years for cervical cancer to develop from persistent HPV infection. For this reason, Cervical Cancer Tests only need to be routinely performed every 5 years.
Women over 30 years of age who do not want a clinical examination may opt for a ‘self taken‘ sample. Your GP will need to request this.
The Role of HPV in Cervical Cancer
The new cervical screening programme recognizes that cervical cancer can be detected prior to the development of actual cancerous cells. That is because cervical cancer is strongly linked to HPV infection, particularly HPV types 16 and 18.
Persistent HPV infections can lead to the abnormal cells that eventually develop into cervical cancer. By identifying and treating the HPV infection early, the abnormal cells and cancer can be avoided.
Just because you have received the HPV vaccination does not mean that you can skip HPV screening for cervical cancer. Unfortunately, the HPV vaccination does not protect against all strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. So, both vaccinated and unvaccinated women need to participate in screening. Fortunately, HPV screening only needs to be performed every 5 years
 Cancer Council of Australia: Cervical Cancer