Cervical screening, also known as the cervical screening test, replaced the Pap test in 2017, and detects cancer-causing types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in a sample of cells taken from the cervix.
The National Cervical Screening Program recommends that women and people with a cervix aged 25–74 have a cervical screening test two years after their last Pap test, and then once every five years.
And since prevention is one of the most effective ways of creating a cancer free future, here are six things to know about cervical screening:
1. Cervical screening is not painful
A cervical screening test can cause some discomfort, but it should not be painful. If you have symptoms such as pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, always see your doctor straight away – regardless of your age or when you were last screened.
2. Cervical screening can detect changes the cervix before they become cancerous
Cervical cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stages, which is why the screening test is the most effective way to find any precancerous changes or early cervical cancer, which can then be treated.
3. Self-collection is now an option for cervical screening
Self-collection is when a woman or person with a cervix takes their own vaginal sample for cervical screening.
Instructions on how to collect the sample are provided and a private place for collection of the sample is offered. The test is just as effective at detecting HPV and preventing cervical cancer.
4. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV
Cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer caused by HPV, but persistent infection can also lead to less common cancers affecting men and women, including anal, vulvar, vaginal, mouth/throat and penile cancers.
It can take a very long time between becoming infected with HPV and developing cancer.
5. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers
Cancer of the cervix is one of the most preventable cancers. About 930 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Australia each year.
6. Even if you’re vaccinated you should still take the test
When the HPV vaccine is given in adolescence, it provides strong protection against cervical cancer. However, the HPV vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV, so it’s important to have regular cervical screening tests whether you are vaccinated or not.
Regular cervical screening helps to detect problems early, which means timely treatment and prevention of cervical cancer.
Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your individual risk factors and the appropriate screening schedule for you.