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A new era for cervical cancer prevention in Australia

December 1, 2017


Today marks the start of a new, more effective and more sophisticated screening program for cervical cancer prevention in Australia.  

Replacing the two-yearly Pap smear, the new test - which looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV) - is required only once every five years, and will help reduce cervical cancer rates and deaths by at least 20%

Professor Karen Canfell, Chair of the Cancer Screening and Immunisation Committee for Cancer Council Australia, says the program will benefit Australian women in a number of ways. 

She explained that while the old Pap smear test identified abnormalities that had already occurred in the cervix, the new test looks for HPV, the cause of almost all cervical cancer cases, before precancerous changes can even develop. 

“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,” Prof Canfell said. 

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

Other changes mean that women only need to be tested from the age of 25, compared to the previous recommendation of 18-20 years. Women will be sent an invitation to take part in the program around their 25th birthday. 

Women who are overdue for the Pap smear, or due for another test, are encouraged to speak to their doctor about the new program. 

While the changes will run in conjunction with the HPV vaccination program offered to teens, Prof Canfell emphasised the need for all women to take part, even those who are immunised against the virus.  

“All eligible women should take part in the cervical screening program,” Prof Canfell said. 

“And any woman who experiences any symptoms such as bleeding, pain or discharge should see a GP straightaway, regardless of when their last test was.”