Women across Australia rejoiced when the 2-yearly Pap smear was replaced by the cervical screening test in late 2017.
For women with normal results, the cervical screening test is needed only every 5 years — and it's more effective than the Pap smear in preventing cervical cancers. The recommended age of the first test was also lifted from 18 (for the Pap smear) to 25 (for the cervical screening test), or 2 years after the last Pap smear.
The good news keeps coming.
Now, a self-collection method, recently added to the National Cervical Screening Program Guidelines, has made the cervical screening test even easier for some women.
You may be able to self-test for cervical cancer
While cervical screening tests are generally needed less frequently, many women still find them uncomfortable and embarrassing. Cue the self-test, or, ‘self-collection', method.
Instead of a health professional doing the test, eligible women are shown to a private area within the medical practice. There, they can take a sample from the vagina using a specially-designed swab that looks a bit like a cotton-wool bud. The swab helps detect any of the 14 types of human papillomavirus (HPV), known to cause 99% of cervical cancers.
"The test is simple, quick, and safe, and is as accurate as a test performed by the doctor or trained nurse," explains Dr Lara Roeske, Foundation Director of Education and Liaison at VCS Pathology and co-author of the renewed National Cervical Screening Program Guidelines.
Who is eligible for self-collection?
The cervical self-test is not available to everyone.
Patients who have declined a screening test by their health professional can be offered the self-collection method. You also need to be over 30 years of age and be overdue for your screening test.
About half of Australian women (55%) aged 20-69 participated in cervical screening in 2015-16.—Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
"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.
It's hoped that the self-test will increase screening participation rates, particularly among groups who may be under-screened.
According to Jean Hailes for Women's Health, these groups include women in rural and remote areas, indigenous women, culturally and linguistically diverse groups, women facing social and economic disadvantage, victims of sexual trauma and violence, and busy women who have not prioritised their health.
Ultimately, the self-test may help get Australia closer to eradicating cervical cancer altogether.
For more information about cervical screening
- Book a cervical screening test with your doctor or nurse.
- Register to receive a free SMS reminder the month your cervical screening test is due, from the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation.
- Find out how to use the self-test at Cancerscreening.gov.au.
- Visit Jean Hailes for Women's Health for information about cervical screening and general women's health. You can also call 1800 Jean Hailes (532 642), Monday to Friday 9am-5pm.
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