Changes to the National Cervical Screening Program
How is the program changing?
Based on significant improvements in science, technology and research into the development of cervical cancer, the Australian Government has accepted the recommendation of the Medical Services Advisory Committee to make the following changes to the National Cervical Screening Program:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinated and unvaccinated women who have ever been sexually active should have a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years (instead of a Pap test every 2 years)
- Women should begin screening from the age of 25
- Women should have a final (exit test) when they are aged 70-74 years
- A National Cancer Screening Register will support the operations of the screening program.
Women of any age who have symptoms (including pain or unusual bleeding) should speak to their doctor or nurse immediately and not wait for their next test.
When will the program change?
The program is due to change in December 2017. Until then, it is important that women attend for their Pap test when it is due. The NSW Pap Test Register will continue to collect results, remind women when they are overdue for a Pap test, and follow-up women with an abnormal result who have not gone for further testing when required.
What is the new Cervical Screening Test?
A current Pap smear test looks for abnormal cells in the cervix. The new Cervical Screening Test will look for HPV, the virus that causes cells in the cervix to change or become abnormal. Persistent infection with HPV causes over 99% of all cervical cancers.
- The new Cervical Screening Test will detect human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
- If HPV persists (does not clear up), it may cause abnormal cell changes, which may eventually lead to the development of cervical cancer.
- Women who test negative for HPV will only need the Cervical Screening Test every 5 years.
- The time between getting an infection (HPV) and the infection perhaps turning into cervical cancer is very long, usually 10-15 years.
- The procedure for collecting the sample for a Cervical Screening Test will be the same as the procedure for having a Pap test.
- Cervical cancer that is not caused by HPV is very rare, and usually not able to be detected by any screening test, including the current Pap test.
What is the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR)?
The NCSR will be a national database of screening records. It will support the National Cervical Screening Program by:
- Providing a woman’s cervical screening test result history to laboratories for comparison with current results
- Providing a ‘safety net’ for women who have positive test results and prompt them to have follow-up tests
- Inviting women to start screening when they turn 25 years
- Reminding women when they are due for cervical screening.
More information about these changes and the new HPV test can be found on the National Cervical Screening Program and NPS Medicinewise websites.