Pap smears are no one’s idea of a good time, but they are a very necessary in preventing deaths from cervical cancer.
From 1 December, however, there are big changes to Australia’s national cervical screening program and the Pap smear as you know it will be gone. Instead, it’s being replaced with a superior test, which means you go in for one less often.
Before you get too excited, the stirrups haven’t gone anywhere. The samples are still collected in the same way and the doctor’s appointment won’t be any less uncomfortable.
To find out what has changed about the new screening program, we spoke to Dr Daria Fielder, a GP at Sapphire Family Medical Practice in NSW.
Introducing the CST
One of the biggest changes of course, is that women aged 25-79 now need to go in for the test only five years instead of every two. Dr Fielder says this is due to changes in how pathologists test the samples, resulting in a test that is far superior to the original Pap smear test.
“We’ve got a new screening program called Cervical Screening Test or CST, it replaces Pap smear,” she says.
“The reason for the change is two factors. One is because the National Immunisation Program includes a vaccine offered to girls and boys at school, which protects them against the human papillomavirus (HPV). As a result of that, we have had a significant reduction of cervical cancer in Australia.”
“The other reason is that we are offering a superior test. So the actual test we are doing is more accurate than the Pap smear test.”
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Dr Fielder explains that sexually-transmitted HPV can cause abnormal cells in the cervix that can develop into cervical cancer. The previous test looked for cells that had been changed by the HPV, whereas the new test tests for presence of HPV itself.
“The actual way it’s conducted is exactly the same, so you still need to go see your doctor and have a gynaecological examination with a speculum,” she says. “The cells are collected the same way, the difference is how they’re processed.”
But if I’m immunised, why have the test?
Those who’ve undergone HPV immunisation might be wondering why they still need to have a screening at all. Dr Fielder says that’s because the vaccine only protects against certain strains of HPV, but not all.