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A self-test is making cervical screening even easier

Blog post | 14 Aug 2022

Females across Australia rejoiced when the cervical screening test replaced the 2-yearly Pap smear in late 2017.

For people with normal results, they only need to have the cervical screening test every 5 years — and it's more effective than the Pap smear in preventing cervical cancers. You should (and are eligible to) get a cervical screening test if you’re aged between 25 and 74, you have a cervix and have ever been sexually active (even if you’re no longer sexually active).

The good news keeps coming.

Now, a self-collection method, added to the National Cervical Screening Program Guidelines, is making the cervical screening test even easier for people.

Why is self-collection available and what’s involved?

Many people find cervical screening tests done by a healthcare professional uncomfortable and traumatic, which may be because of past traumas such as domestic violence or cultural barriers. Cue the self-test, or ‘self-collection', method.

Although you can still choose to have your cervical screening test performed by a healthcare professional, you can also choose to collect the sample yourself. As of 1 July 2022, this self-collection option became available for all people eligible for the test.

Those who are eligible and choose to self-collect will have the test in a private area within the medical practice and be told how to do it. There, they can take a sample by inserting a swab a few centimetres into their vagina and rotating it for 10 to 30 seconds.

The test is simple, quick and safe, and is as accurate as a test performed by the doctor or a trained nurse. It’s also free under Medicare.

Who shouldn’t use the self-collection test?

The test detects signs of the human papillomavirus (HPV) only — a common infection that causes most cervical cancers. So people who have symptoms of cervical cancer or are experiencing unusual bleeding, pain or discharge are not recommended for self-testing. Speak to your doctor about what’s right for you.

Why is self-testing important?

Up to 90% of people who die from cervical cancer, which is preventable, are either not up to date with their screening or haven’t participated in screening — despite being eligible.

It's hoped that self-testing is increasing screening participation rates, particularly among groups who may be under screened.

According to Jean Hailes for Women's Health, these groups include people in rural and remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse groups, people facing social and economic disadvantage, victims of sexual trauma and violence and busy people 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

This post was originally published on 23 November 2021 and has been updated to include the most recent details on this topic.

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