Good news: pap smears are about to get less awkward

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Pap smears are, undoubtedly, a crucial and potentially life-saving health check. But that doesn’t mean the experience is an enjoyable one.

Lying spread-eagled on a paper-lined bed as a (usually very cold) speculum is inserted inside you, all the while trying to make small talk and hoping your gynae doesn’t notice your downstairs grooming routine has slipped a little… it’s all just a little bit awkward. Important, but awkward.

However, the days of the traditional pap smear could be numbered. A study in the British Medical Journal this month suggest a simple urine test could offer an alternative way to screen for human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection linked to cervical cancer.

The report, which analysed 14 studies of the urine test, found it correctly identified 87 per cent of HPV cases, and was 73 per cent effective in identifying the two highest risk strains of the virus. For reference, the traditional pap smear test has an accuracy rate of 98 per cent.

Although the study authors call for further research, and say their findings should be interpreted with caution, they write, “The detection of HPV in urine is non-invasive, easily accessible, and acceptable to women, and a test with these qualities could considerably increase uptake.”

Peeing into a cup instead of taking off our undies and lying on a piece of paper? Count us in.

This isn’t the only development that could make our health and sex lives easier. A recently-launched website called SmartSex provides a convenient and discreet way to screen for sexual transmitted infections. Users order a test on the site before visiting a local pathology collection centre. Results will then be sent out via SMS within two business days. To keep the process even more discreet, payment for the test appears under an alias on the user’s credit card or PayPal statement.

With rates of STIs climbing in Australia – and many more men and women living with undiagnosed conditions like chlamydia – early detection and treatment is so important. And anything that makes the screening process less squirm-worthy is certainly worth celebrating.

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