The new Cervical Screening Test (CST) in Australia was introduced in December 2017 after the release of the latest evidence based research stating that this test is more effective at detecting the virus at an early stage, that causes cervical abnormalities. It is expected that this test will protect up to 30 % more women from cervical cancer in Australia. Around 800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in Australia.
The test presents exactly the same as the PAP smears, which you may have had in the past. However, the way the sample it stored and tested is different. The other notable change to the screening process is that the evidence shows that having the new CST every 5 years is just as safe and even more effective than the previous 2 yearly PAP Test.
What is the Cervical Screening Test Looking For?
This new test is more efficient at detecting the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which causes the initial abnormal changes to the cervix. It is the presence of HPV which can develop into cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is rare but we know that it usually takes about 10 -15 years for the abnormalities caused by the virus to develop into cancer. Around 99% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV.
HPV is a common infection and there are many different types. It is spread during sexual activity by genital skin to skin contact. There are usually no symptoms of HPV and many people will have it at some point in their lives and not be aware. There is no treatment for HPV and many of these infections will clear naturally in the body over time. It is the rare cases not cleared by the body that can cause changes to the cells of the cervix.
Cervical Screening Test and Pathway for Results
Women between the ages of 25–74 years who have ever been sexually active are recommended to have the CST every 5 years until the age of 74.
Your first CST should take place at the 2 year interval when your PAP Test is due and then every 5 years following, if you have a clear result.
Other possible results may include a repeat test in 12 months to check that a HPV virus has cleared, or a referral to a specialist if you have abnormalities that need to be treated.
A result may come back as unsatisfactory, which will require a repeat CST test in 6 weeks. In most of these cases it will be due to an insufficient amount of cells collected during the test.
The CST will be supported by a register, The National Cervical Screening Program, similar to the PAP Register, so you will receive reminder letters and follow up result letters.
Sometimes Cervical Screening can be done in very early pregnancy, but in most cases it will be attended before pregnancy if due, or at the 6 week postnatal check after birth.
Cervical Screening Testing and HPV Vaccine.
HPV Vaccinations work best when they are given before exposure to HPV. In Australia, adolescents are offered the vaccine through a funded school based immunisation program. Three doses of the vaccine are recommended and protect against HPV types 16 and 18 that can cause around 70% of cervical cancers. It also protects against 2 non cancer causing HPV types which are the causative organisms of up to 90% of genital warts. The HPV vaccinations do not however, protect against all types of HPV, so the need to participate in the cervical screening program is crucial for checking the health of the cervix and prevention of cervical cancers in the future.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our rooms.