Changes to cervical cancer screening

Monday, 04 July, 2022

Changes to cervical cancer screening

For many women and people with a cervix, particularly those who have experienced sexual violence or abuse, having a regular ‘pap smear’ from a GP can be extremely traumatic, and many women instead opt not to get this test done, which exposes them to a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

Now women and people, between 25 and 74, with a cervix will be able to perform their own cervical screening test under changes to the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP). They can have a test either by taking their own sample from their vagina, using a simple swab, or having a healthcare provider collect the sample using a speculum.

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney said, “Anyone who has ever had a traditional ‘pap smear’ knows how uncomfortable and off-putting they can be.

“This do-it-yourself test is a game changer, breaking down access barriers for many people. It will mean that women who have experienced sexual violence do not have to have the invasive test, but can still be effectively screened for cervical cancer.

“Self-collection will make cervical cancer screening a lot more accessible for people of different cultural backgrounds, who may not have opted to get a traditional ‘pap smear’. It will also ensure the gender diverse community have less barriers to screening,” Kearney said.

“This gives women more control over their own bodies and makes it easier to keep safe and healthy.”

Self-collection will be available through GP clinics, women’s health clinics, Aboriginal health centres and other healthcare providers, through the NCSP, which encourages a simple five-yearly test (changed from every two years in 2017) to check for human papillomavirus (HPV) before any cancerous cells develop. HPV is a common infection that causes almost all cervical cancers.

Both test options are free under Medicare — so if the healthcare provider bulk bills for consultations, the whole thing is free. They are accessed through a healthcare provider and are accurate and safe ways to collect a sample for a Cervical Screening Test.

Self-collection is also available as an option for follow-up HPV testing after an intermediate risk result and cervical screening during pregnancy.

The government is working with the Australian Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer to develop a National Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy. This will be a coordinated effort throughout the health system to overcome cultural and structural barriers to cervical cancer prevention programs and treatment, particularly for First Nations peoples and other under-screened populations.

The government is also supporting Australia’s largest clinical trial, the Compass Trial, which will produce world-first evidence on the interactions between HPV vaccination and HPV-based screening. The trial will inform improvements to the National Cervical Screening Program to ensure participants continue to receive the right care.

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