I hate having to be an adult. It’s not nearly as fun as I thought it would be and life is much easier when you can blame your parents for everything. Despite all the independence that comes with moving out of home and having an income, I don’t spend most of my time doing what I want to do, which includes watching Disney movies, re-reading the Harry Potter series, and eating entire packets of Tim Tams without a thought for the consequences. Instead, because I’m an adult, I spend most of my time wanting to take a nap, regretting making social plans and googling things like “who do I vote for”, “what are taxes” and “how to stick to a budget”. I’m also now responsible for my own health. So I get pap smears. Every two years. Not because I enjoy having a stranger insert a metal speculum inside me or having miniature broom rummage around my cervix, but because I am a responsible adult, and getting a pap smear is an important part of women’s health.
As of May 2017 there are changes being made to the National Cervical Screening Program, and although the procedure is the same (speculum, broom rummaging etc), it will reduce the number of times women have to have cervical screening tests done (Thank God for small blessings). These changes are based on the huge success of the HPV vaccine (aka Gardasil) and new evidence about the nature of HPV infection and the development of cervical cancer.
Currently women are encouraged to start having pap smears between 18-20 years old, or 2 years after first having sex (whichever is later); and continue to have pap smears every 2 years until they are 69. This translates to about 25 pap smears in a lifetime. The new changes to the National Cervical Screening Program will reduce the number of tests to only about 10 in a lifetime (insert collective gasp of delight here).
Also, just to confuse you more, the term pap smear will be replaced by “cervical screening test” (CST). This is a technical formality as doctors will no longer “smear” the sample on a slide but rather mix it around in some fluid before sending it off.
How do these changes affect me?
As of May 1st 2017:
# Cervical screening will be offered to women between the ages of 25 and 74 years (if you are sexually active).
# Screening tests will be done every 5 years.
# The new screening test will look for HPV infection rather than abnormal cervical cells – however obtaining the sample will still involve the insertion of a speculum and obtaining a sample from the cervix.
# Cervical screening is encouraged for both vaccinated and unvaccinated women as the HPV vaccine only protects against 70% of cervical cancers.
# Until May 2017 when these changes come into effect, continue to have routine pap smears every 2 years.
Follow the link below for more information on the new screening process and cervical screening in general:
Why do I have to get cervical screening anyway?
# The National Cervical Screening Program is a scheme to reduce the number of cases of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer and it may not cause symptoms until late stages where the cancer can be quite aggressive and may have spread.
# By screening women who are at risk we can prevent cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the cancers that we are most able to prevent.
# In 2012 226 women died from cervical cancer. In Australia, 80% of women who had cervical cancer had not been screened or not had regular screening tests.
What does HPV have to do with anything?
# HPV stands for human papillomavirus and is the cause of 99% of cervical cancers.
# HPV is a common infection which is transmitted by sexual activity. Most women will get HPV at some point during their lives. Men can also be infected with HPV.
HPV infection usually doesn’t cause any symptoms as such it can be passed on unknowingly to sexual partners.
# There are many types of HPV infections, most will clear up without causing any problems within 1-2 years.
# Some HPV infections may persist and can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. However these changes are very slow, developing cervical cancer from HPV usually takes more than 10 years.
# There is currently no treatment for HPV infection.
# Condoms provide some, but not complete, protection against HPV. You may have a HPV infection even if you use condoms every single time you have sex.
# The Gardasil vaccine protects against 4 types of HPV infection, these types of HPV are the most high risk and are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers.
# The Gardasil vaccine is part of the school immunisation program and is administered to children between the ages of 10-15 years depending on the state or territory. This is because teenagers are having sexual intercourse at younger ages, with ¼ year 10 students and ½ of year 12 students having had vaginal intercourse.
-Parents must sign a consent form for their child to have the Gardasil vaccine. If you would like more information as a parent, for your child or as a patient the HPV vaccine website is very comprehensive.http://www.hpvvaccine.org.au