The Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) has recommended to the Australian Government that a new cervical screening test for women should replace the current Pap smear. While the testing procedure will be the same, the good news for women is that this new test will only need to be undertaken every 5 years.
Following a comprehensive review of the current evidence of the latest medical research, scientific developments and evidence around cervical cancer, MSAC has recommended for both HPV vaccinated and unvaccinated women that a HPV test should be undertaken every 5 years from the age 25.
The latest scientific evidence shows this new screening approach will work even better by detecting human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which we now know to be the first step in developing cervical cancer.
MSAC found that a HPV test every five years is even more effective than screening with a Pap test every two years. A HPV test every five years can save more lives and women will need fewer tests than in the current two yearly Pap test program.
HPV vaccinated women still require cervical screening as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical 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.
Cervical screening is provided by doctors and nurses in general practices, family planning clinics, women’s health centres, rural and remote clinics, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.
The MSAC recommendations will now be considered by government after extensive consultation with state and territory health authorities, medical and pathology experts and community stakeholders.
Until these recommendations are considered, women should continue to have two–yearly Pap tests, which have already successfully halved the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer over the past 22 years.
Pending policy approval of these recommendations, it is anticipated that changes to cervical cancer screening will not be implemented until 2016.