Changes to the National Cervical Screening Program

In 2017, the National Cervical Screening Program is changing. From December 1st, the current Pap test will be replaced by the Cervical Screening Program which will include a HPV test rather than a Pap test. These changes are a result of new evidence, better technology and will help improve early detection of cervical cancer and save lives.

The new National Cervical Screening Program will:

  • invite women to participate in the National Cancer Screening Register
  • replace the Pap test with the more accurate Cervical Screening Test
  • invite women aged 25 to 74 years to undertake the test
  • increase the time between tests from two years to five years
  • invite women 70 to 74 years to have an exit test

The new Cervical Screening Test will:

  • Be available on the Medicare Benefits Schedule in 2017 from 1st December
  • Prevent an additional 140 cervical cancers each year
  • Complement Australia’s HPV vaccination program for boy and girls

Until the new system is officially implemented, do not delay your 2 yearly Pap test,  just continue to be screened as normal. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers if it is detected early.

Women of any age who have symptoms (including pain or bleeding) should not wait but have appropriate clinical assessment by their doctor immediately, so if you have any concerns discuss them with your doctor or health practitioner.

Further information on the renewed National Cervical Screening Program is available at the cancer screening website.

If you would like ACCF to come and explain these changes to your workplace, school or community group, contact us.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the National Cervical Screening Program changing?

  • From 1 December, 2017, evidence based changes to the National Cervical Screening Program, together with HPV vaccination, will reduce the number of cervical cancers by at least an additional 15 per cent.
  • A primary HPV test every 5 years can save more lives and women will need fewer tests than in the current 2 yearly Pap test program.
  • These changes will ensure that Australia stays at the forefront of cervical cancer prevention.

How does the new cervical screening test work?

  • The new Cervical Screening Test detects Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is the first step in developing cervical cancer.
  • Persistent HPV infections can cause abnormal cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. However, this usually takes a long time, often more than 10 years from initial HPV infection.
  • While the current Pap test can detect abnormal cell changes, the new Cervical Screening Test will detect the persistent HPV infection that causes the abnormal cell changes, prior to the development of cancer.
  • The procedure for collecting the sample for HPV testing is the same as the procedure for having a Pap smear. A doctor or nurse will still take a small sample of cells from the woman’s cervix to send away to a laboratory to be examined.

Can I have the new cervical screening test now?

  • Women of any age who have symptoms (including pain or bleeding) should have appropriate clinical assessment and see their doctor immediately.
  • The new cervical screening test will be available on the Medicare Benefits Schedule from December 1st 2017
  • Until then, it is important to undertake two yearly Pap tests to prevent cervical cancer. The cost of Pap tests will remain covered by Medicare until December 1st and from May 1st-November 30th, 2017, clinicians will be able to offer women either the traditional Pap test or ThinPrep liquid-based-cytology test. This is good news for women as this test in the past cost patients about $40 out-of-pocket.
  • The new HPV test is not currently available on the Medicare Benefits Schedule because there is a need to first develop and implement:
    • consumer resources and health professional training;
    • new clinical guidelines for women with a positive test result;
    • new pathology laboratory performance measures and standards;
    • workforce changes; and
    • register changes.
  • These activities are designed to enable the successful and safe delivery of the renewed program.

Why should I start cervical screening at 25 years of age?

The Cervical Renewal Taskforce says that evidence shows that:

  • cervical cancer in young women is rare (in both HPV vaccinated and unvaccinated women);
  • screening women younger than 25 years of age has not changed the number of cases of cervical cancer or deaths from cervical cancer in this age group;
  • investigating and treating common cervical abnormalities in young women that would usually resolve by themselves can increase the risk of pregnancy complications later in life; and
  • HPV vaccination has already been shown to reduce cervical abnormalities among women younger than 25 years of age and will continue to reduce the risk of cervical abnormalities in this age group.

The Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation strongly recommends that women don’t wait until they are 25 to  establish a good relationship with their health practitioner so that they can discuss all areas of reproductive health from an early age.

When should I stop cervical screening?

  • Women between 70 and 74 years of age who have had a regular screening test will be recommended to have an exit HPV test before leaving the cervical screening program.
  • Women older than 69 years of age who have never been screened or have not had regular screening tests should have an HPV test if they request screening.

Will cervical screening prevent all cervical cancers?

  • There is no effective population screening test for rare neuroendocrine cervical cancers.
  • Neither the current Pap test nor the new cervical screening test (primary HPV test) effectively detects rare neuroendocrine cervical cancers.

I am HPV vaccinated, so why do I need to have cervical screening tests?

  • The current HPV vaccine provides protection against about 70-80 per cent of cervical cancers so it is important that even if you are vaccinated, you are also screened for cervical cancer as you do not have 100% protection.

Read the press release here.

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