Updated: Feb 9
This information is sourced from and published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health.
The fight against cervical cancer
We talk with VCS Foundation Director of Education and Liaison Dr Lara Roeske about the
renewed National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) which switched from the Pap test to
the Cervical Screening Test in December 2017.
Self-test set to help Australia continue the fight against cervical cancer
Since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening program in 1991, Australia now has one of the lowest rates of cervical cancer in the world.
If vaccination and screening coverage are maintained at their current rates, cervical cancer
will be eliminated in Australia within the next 20 years, according to research from Cancer
Council NSW, published in the medical journal The Lancet Public Health.
However, every year in Australia 600-700 women are still diagnosed with cervical cancer
and 200-300 will die.
It's hoped that a self-test, made available to eligible women as part of the renewed National
Cervical Screening Guidelines, will encourage even more women to screen for cervical
Changes to cervical cancer screening
In December 2017, the method for screening for cervical cancer was updated, with the
traditional two-yearly Pap smear test replaced by the Cervical Screening Test.
Strong evidence suggests that the new Cervical Screening Test is superior at predicting
cervical cancer risk, when compared to the Pap test.
While the Pap test looked for cell changes in the cervix, the new Cervical Screening Test
looks for any of the 14 different types of human papillomavirus (HPV) known to cause 99%
of cervical cancer. If HPV is found, then the cells of the cervix will be automatically checked
for any changes
In this way, the new test is a step ahead of the Pap test – 30% more cases of cervical
cancer will be prevented with the new screening program compared with the old Pap Screen Program.
It also means that women now only need to be screened every five years if their results are
How the self-test works
Dr Lara Roeske, VCS Foundation Director of Education and Liaison, co-authored the
renewed National Cervical Screening Program Guidelines.
Dr Roeske says the self-test avoids the embarrassment, fear and discomfort experienced by
some women. "The test is simple, quick, and safe, and is as accurate as a test performed
by the doctor or trained nurse."
To be eligible, women need to speak to their doctor or nurse, be aged 30 years or over, and
be overdue for their screening. Women need to make an appointment to see their GP,
specialist or nurse.
How to take the test:
You will be given a private area to take your own sample from the vagina by using a
specially provided swab that looks a bit like a cotton bud.
• Taking the test should not hurt.
• Insert the swab, rotate 1-2 times then remove it.
• Put the swab in the tube and hand this back to your doctor or nurse.
• Your doctor or nurse will be available to answer any questions.
• If you have any concerns about how to use the swab or where to put the swab,
your doctor or nurse will be able to assist you with this.
Under-screened groups most at risk
This new test might be particularly important for under-screened people and at-risk and
remote populations, with only six out of 10 eligible women in Australia having cervical
screening at the recommended times.
In Australia, 80% of cervical cancers are found in women who are overdue for screening, or
who have never been screened.
The under-screened may be in rural and remote areas, indigenous women, culturally and
linguistically diverse groups, women facing social and economic disadvantage, victims of
sexual trauma and violence, or women who are busy and have not prioritised their health.
Research also shows that lesbian, bisexual and queer-identified women, and transgender
men with a cervix, are less likely to undergo regular screenings for cervical cancer – or face
barriers to screenings – compared with heterosexual women.
"We know that up to 90% of women who die from this preventable cancer are either not up
to date with their screening, or have not participated in screening despite being eligible,"
says Dr Roeske.
"Additionally, contact with a health professional is a good opportunity to raise awareness
about risk factors such as cigarette smoking, which can interfere with the body's ability to
clear HPV infection of the cervix," says Dr Roeske.
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health
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