Changes to cervical cancer screening program coming December 1st, 2017

In Australia the current Commonwealth government funded cervical screening program uses two-yearly Pap smears to screen for abnormalities in cervical cells. From December 1st this year this program will be replaced by a new and more effective program that uses five-yearly human papilloma virus (HPV) DNA screening instead. 

The sample will be collected the same way as a PAP smear but will not need to be done as often.

Here is a summary of the changes as shown on the Australian Government Department of Health website:

The two-yearly Pap test for women aged 18 to 69 will change to a five-yearly human papillomavirus (HPV) test for women aged 25 to 74. Women will be due for the first Cervical Screening Test two years after their last Pap test. The changes include:

  • Women will be invited when they are due to participate via the National Cancer Screening Register
  • The Pap smear will be replaced with the more accurate Cervical Screening Test
  • The time between tests will change from two to five years
  • The age at which screening starts will increase from 18 years to 25 years
  • Women aged 70 to 74 years will be invited to have an exit test
  • Women of any age who have symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge and pain should see their health care professional immediately

HPV vaccinated women still require cervical screening as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.  

Until the renewed National Cervical Screening Program is implemented, women aged between 18 and 69 years who have ever been sexually active should continue to have a Pap test when due.

Lab Tests Online has prepared a short video which explains why the program has changed and why it will be more effective at preventing cervical cancer in Australian women. In addition to this the ABC Health News website has an excellent article explaining more about the changes to the program. This article includes another video featuring Norman Swan explaining why younger women no longer need to start testing as early in their lives.

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