01.New test coming soon
A new cervical screening test for the human papillomavirus (HPV) recommended by Australia's Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC), if approved, will replace the current regime of Pap tests once every two years with one every five years.
The MSAC, which recommends health treatments to be covered by Medicare, says it supports public funding for the new test for all women aged between 25 to 69 years (and women of any age with symptoms such as pain or bleeding), with exit testing of women up to 74 years of age.
The MSAC has also recommended that women who are under-screened or unscreened (for example those with cultural barriers to participating in the Pap test) should be able to provide a self-collected sample for her test.
How will self-collection work?
According to a spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health, a woman will need to go to the GP or health care facility to get the self-collection kit, which she then self-administers (meaning the health care professional doesn't do an internal vaginal examination to take the sample - the woman takes the sample herself). The sample is then sent for pathology results through the health care facility, and the results come back to the health care professional for discussion with the woman.
However, the spokeswoman says that self-collection kits cannot be directly provided to women as part of the National Cervical Screening Program.
When will the changes happen?
If the recommendation is approved by the government, the new testing regime could be in place by 2016, with the existing testing (once every two years) remaining in place until then.
Cancer Council welcomes changes
The Cancer Council has welcomed the recommendation, with CEO Professor Ian Olver saying evidence showed the new test would be more effective than the Pap test, and just as safe.
"Australia is in a position to introduce an even more effective approach that is just as safe as the Pap test. In its first 10 years, the Pap test based program reduced mortality by 50%, a figure that plateaued in the subsequent decade. The HPV test is predicted to further reduce mortality by 15%."
About cervical cancer
According to MSAC, cervical cancer is the twelfth most common cancer affecting Australian women (excluding basal and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin). In 2009, there were 8.9 new cases of cervical cancer and two deaths per 100,000 women aged 20 to 69 years.
Australia’s two-pronged approach to prevention and early detection of cervical cancer includes the HPV vaccination program
and cervical screening. The government has funded the cervical cancer vaccine for girls aged 12 to 13 since 2007 and for boys since 2013. According to MSAC, while the vaccination program aims to prevent about 70% of all HPV infections that are known to cause cervical cancer, but it doesn't negate the need for continued, regular HPV screening.