The National Cervical Screening Program has changed from a two-yearly pap smear to a five-yearly HPV test. Read on to learn more about the changes.
What is the difference between the old and new screening program?
Previously, all women aged 18 to 69 who have ever been sexually active were advised to have a pap smear every two years. Pap smears check for cell changes on the cervix (located at the top of the vagina). The test helps to detect early changes that may lead to cervical cancer in the future.
In the new screening program, women aged 25 to 74 who have ever been sexually active will need a HPV test every five years. This applies for those who aren’t currently sexually active and women who are in a same-sex relationship.
|NEW PROGRAM||OLD PROGRAM|
|When required||Every 5 years||Every 2 years|
|Tests for||Presence of HPV||Cervical cell changes|
|Who for||Women aged 25 to 74 years||Women aged 18 to 69 years|
Why did the program changed?
The program has changed to improve early detection of cervical anomalies and save more lives. The HPV test is more accurate than the conventional screening test which used a pap smear.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus affecting both men and women. Some people who have HPV can develop symptoms such as genital warts. HPV may also lead to cervical cancer and other forms of genital cancer. Regular cervical screening can help to detect cervical anomalies early, before cancer develops.
Do I still need the HPV test if I have the HPV vaccination?
HPV vaccinated women still need the new HPV test, as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer.
Is it safe to wait five years between tests?
Yes, research has consistently shown that you can safely wait five years between tests if your HPV test is negative.
Is it safe to start screening at 25 years if I am sexually active before age 25?
Yes. According to the Australian Government Department of Health, screening women younger than 25 does not improve the rates of cervical cancer. Also, early detection can sometimes result in unnecessary treatment which can cause pregnancy-related complications. Further, most women now receive the HPV vaccination which reduces cervical abnormalities in women under 25.
Is the screening method the same?
Yes. The procedure for collecting the sample for HPV testing is the same as the procedure for having a Pap smear. The test performed on the sample by pathologists, however, is a different type of test.
When should I have my next cervical screening test?
Your next cervical screening test should be booked in two years from the date of your most recent pap smear, unless advised otherwise by your GP or Dr Hong.
The lab will process your next cervical screen using the new method of testing, and then you will continue to have your cervical screening test every 5 years if your test result is normal.
What is an abnormal result?
An abnormal result means HPV is detected. In some cases, there may also be cell changes which means some of the cells in the cervix look different to normal. There are different grades of ‘abnormalities’ or cell changes.
You may need a colposcopy to determine the grade of an abnormality. A colposcopy is a procedure where your gynaecologist checks the cervix with a device called a colposcope, which has a magnifying lens. Dr Hong might also take a small tissue sample, called a biopsy, for further examination.
Our treatment options for abnormal results
You don’t always need a treatment if you have an abnormal result. If the changes are low-grade, quite often no treatment is needed but monitoring with more frequent tests or colposcopies.
In the new screening program, there will be some changes to the treatment and management of low-grade and high-grade changes. Dr Hong can provide more information about these changes during our consultation.
If your test results indicate treatment is needed, Dr Hong will discuss the most suitable option with you and will work out a care plan together with you.