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Let's talk about sex.

Did the headline get your attention?

Hopefully it did, because that was really half the point of including the word ‘sex’ in a post about preventing cervical cancer. Although to be fair, sex does have a lot to do with cervical cancer, so the headline wasn’t just a cheap marketing ploy.

Many women in Australia don’t realise that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. In fact, up to 90% of cervical cancer diagnoses are avoidable with two-yearly Pap tests (smears).

Despite this good news, only around 60% of eligible Australian women are screening as recommended under the National Cervical Screening Program.

Why is this, ladies? From our research at PapScreen Victoria, the most common reasons for women to avoid having regular Pap tests is embarrassment, a lack of understanding as to what it’s all about, and believing they’re not at risk.

PapScreen Victoria, the cervical cancer prevention program within Cancer Council Victoria, has launched a new campaign to try and address these issues. The campaign revolves around a racy new video depicting an intimate scene between a couple that is dramatically, and rather unexpectedly, interrupted. We suggest you watch the video to see why.

The risqué concept is a new approach for the Cancer Council, which is hoping the enticing combination of sex and humour will help cut through common misconceptions about cervical screening and motivate more women to take part.

The video is designed to remind (or inform) women that cervical cancer is caused by an STI called the human papillomavirus (HPV), and if they have ever had sex, they are at risk of developing the disease.

This goes for women who have only had sex once, who always practice safe sex, women who only have sex with women, and those who have had the same partner for years.

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In fact, without wanting to get too graphic, HPV is actually spread through genital-skin to genital-skin contact. This means that even if you haven’t had sexual intercourse, if your genital region has made contact with someone else’s, you could still have been exposed to the virus.

HPV is extremely common, so common that around 80% of us will have it at some point in our lives. It’s usually harmless, but persistent HPV infections can cause cervical cell changes which if left undetected and untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.

This is why it’s so important for all women aged between 18 and 70 who have ever been sexually active to have a Pap test every two years. Having regular Pap tests is the only way to detect these changes. What about the HPV vaccine? While the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of cervical cancer, it only protects against the types of HPV that cause  around 70% of cervical cancers, which means even women who are vaccinated need two-yearly Pap tests.

Pap tests are provided in Australia via the National Cervical Screening Program to women aged 18–70. Since the program was introduced in 1991, the number of deaths caused by cervical cancer has halved.

Please watch the video from PapScreen Victoria and then send it on to the women in your lives. It might give you a laugh, but more importantly it might remind you why regular Pap tests are so important.

To find out more about PapScreen Victoria’s latest campaign, or for general information on cervical cancer, HPV and Pap tests, visit www.papscreen.org.au or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.