The cervical screen test has been introduced to replace what was formerly known as a PAP test, and it screens women for human papilloma virus (HPV). Cervical cancer is considered to be one of the most avoidable types of cancer, and 99% of cases are caused by HPV. Having the cervical screening test every five years is very important for women over the age of 25.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cancer of the cervix is considered to be preventable, when women over the age of 25 are screened for the presence of HPV. The previous PAP smear test had tested the cervix for abnormal changes in cells, but the screening test that was introduced in 2017 now screens women for the presence of HPV infection, which is responsible for 99% of cervical cancers.
Cervical cancer is more prevalent in women over the age of 25 and under the age of 74. Women under the age of 25 are likely to have received the HPV vaccine as part of the National Immunisation Programme and are statistically unlikely to develop cervical cancer.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus or HPV is a common virus that is transmitted by person-to-person contact. It is so common that there are more than 100 strains of it in circulation, and four out of five people will have an HPV infection at some point in their life. In the majority of cases the body recovers from the virus (and in many instances, the person may not even be aware of it) but in some cases it can cause the development of abnormal cells in the cervix, anus, penis, vulva, throat or vagina.
Why It’s Important To Be Screened For HPV
The new cervical screen test only needs to be done every five years because it takes between 10 and 15 years for cervical cancer to develop. Even if you are not sexually active or haven’t been for some time, if you have ever been sexually active it’s highly likely you have been exposed to the virus.
Should You Have A Cervical Screening If You Have Had The HPV Vaccine?
Yes you should still have a cervical screening test every five years and two years after your last PAP test, even if you have had the HPV vaccine. This is because the vaccine does not protect against every strain of HPV.
What Can You Expect From A Cervical Screening Test?
Before you have your test, your healthcare provider will ask you some questions about your medical history.
A cervical screening test is performed in much the same way as the PAP test. You will lay on your back with your knees drawn up while your healthcare practitioner inspects the inside of your cervix with a speculum.
A sample of the cells from your cervix will be taken, placed into a container with some liquid and sent to a laboratory for testing. The whole process is quite quick and you should not experience any pain.
Who Should Have Cervical Screening?
Cervical screening is recommended for anyone between the ages of 25 and 74 who has a cervix and who has been sexually active in the past. Women who have had the HPV vaccine, women who identify as transgender and lesbian should have cervical screening every five years, as a means to prevent cervical cancer.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Cervical Cancer?
Many cases of cervical cancer present without symptoms, which is why screening is so important for anyone who has a cervix and who has been sexually active. Sometimes symptoms will present as the cancer becomes more advanced and starts to affect more tissues. Some of the symptoms include:
- Bleeding between periods
- Heavier menstrual bleeding that continues for longer than usual
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding during intercourse or a pelvic examination
- Bleeding after menopause
- Unexplained pain in the pelvis and/or back
Any symptoms that are unusual should be reported to your healthcare practitioner as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment give you the best chance of a successful outcome.
Cervical Screening to Prevent Cancer
The research indicates that there are some actions that you can take to prevent the development of cervical cancer. These include:
- Delaying first sexual experiences until the later teens or early 20s
The earlier your first sexual encounter, the higher your risk of cervical cancer.
- Restricting your number of sexual partners
The higher your number of sexual partners, the higher your risk.
- Not having unprotected sexual contact with people who have had multiple sexual partners
- Practising safe sex using a barrier method (condoms or femidoms)
- Not smoking
- Getting the HPV vaccine
Do you have questions or concerns about the cervical screen test? At Super Health Chatswood Medical Centre we pride ourselves on offering a holistic healthcare service.
Please contact us for an appointment: (02) 9884 9300