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Six things you need to know about the Cervical Screening Test replacing pap smears in 2017.

This week marks National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, an event clearly needed considering almost 50 per cent of Australian women aren’t being screened as regularly as they should be for the disease.

According to the CEO of Australian Cervical Cancer Foundations (ACCF), Joe Tooma, a major potential reason for this is the stigma around it.

“People are often reluctant to talk about cervical cancer because of shame and embarrassment, yet it’s caused by HPV which is as common as the common cold,” he says.

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"It's a rare person who is not exposed to HPV so we shouldn't be ashamed to speak about it."

Tooma says the biggest worry is that the rate of women not being screened regularly is not decreasing.

"We know we can save women's lives if they are screened regularly because about 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases and deaths will come from the 43 per cent who are not screened regularly enough."

While the main method of screening has been pap smears, an uncomfortable but necessary test, changes are coming with the introduction of the Cervical Screening Test from May next year. Here are six things you need to know about it.

1. It won't happen right away.

The new program will start from May 1 next year, when the new Cervical Screening Test will become available on the Medicare Benefits Schedule. Until then, women between the ages of 18 and 69 years old will continue to have a pap smear when due. (Post continues after gallery.)

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 2. It's much more effective.

The updated test is a much more effective tool.

"It can detect the presence of HPV many years before a Pap test would be able to detect any abnormality which may be caused by a HPV infection. Its introduction will save even more lives," says Tooma.

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3. You won't notice any difference.

You'll most likely not notice any difference when you go for a screening.

"A sample will be taken from around the cervix, which will go into a liquid. A test will then be run from the sample to see if HPV is present," says Tooma.

If there is HPV present, which occurs in 10 to 20 per cent of tests, then the same sample will be used to see if there are any abnormalities present in the cells. The doctor will then discuss what further testing or treatment is needed and arrange a follow up.

4. You won't have to do it so regularly.

While the Pap test is recommended every two years, if there is no HPV present in your sample, you won't have to come back for another five years.

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5. You should still get it from 18 onwards.

The recommendation still remains that any woman aged 18 to 70 who has ever been sexually active should be screened.

"It is important that all women make sure they are up to date with their Pap screening schedule as soon as possible so that when the HPV testing is introduced they are 'in the system' and won’t miss out," says Tooma.

"All women from ages 18 to 70 should be finding a doctor or women’s health clinic that they are happy with and able to talk about their reproductive health, especially if they have ever been sexually active. Don’t leave it too late."

6. There are other ways to reduce your risk.

As well as regular screening, there are other ways to reduce your risk.

"Get vaccinated with all three doses of the cervical cancer vaccine, adopt safe sexual behaviours and don’t smoke," advises Tooma.

"Cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases are caused by one of about a dozen HPVs. About four out of every five of us will be exposed to at least one of them during our life time – it is as common as a cold, so please don’t be too ashamed or embarrassed to talk about how to prevent it."

Almost all cervical cancer is preventable and vaccination and regular screening really does save lives.

"Talk about it with all the women and girls in your life. You can get the ACCF to come to a school (or work place)  to present the very well received Cervical Cancer Awareness Program for Schools CCAPS," he says.

Head here for more information and always consult your doctor if you think there might be a problem.

Image: iStock.

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