New cervical screening program launched today

Eligible Australian women are encouraged to participate in the renewed national cervical-cancer screening program starting today (December 1).

The new program, which is expected to reduce deaths from the disease by at least 20 per cent, will include a five-yearly cervical screening test for women aged 25 to 74, replacing the two-yearly Pap test previously offered from age 18.

The new, more sophisticated test will look for the presence of the virus that causes almost all cervical cancer – the human papillomavirus (HPV) – and is expected to lower cervical-cancer cases and mortality by at least 20 per cent.

Professor Karen Canfell, Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Screening and Immunisation Committee, says the renewed program will deliver increased health benefits from fewer interventions.

“The old Pap smear was conducted every two years and looked for abnormalities in cells from the cervix,” she said. “The new test is more sophisticated in that it allows scientists to look for the virus that, if left untreated, can cause the cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer.

“By detecting the main precursor to cervical cancer, we can help prevent more cancer cases from occurring, and take action sooner.”

Professor Canfell says that while the procedure will feel the same for women, the good news is that the test needs to be conducted only once every five years.

“A more accurate test means that women won’t need to be screened as often,” she said. “Most importantly, the new program is expected to save lives. Cancer Council research shows that the new program will reduce cervical-cancer cases and deaths by at least 20 per cent. Overall, this is excellent news for Australian women.”

Professor Canfell says women need to remember that even if they have been vaccinated for HPV they should still be screened – and if they are overdue for a test, not to delay having it.

“All eligible women, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated for HPV, should take part in the cervical-screening program,” she said. “And any woman who experiences any symptoms such as bleeding, pain or discharge should see a GP straight away, regardless of their age or when their last test was.”