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Cervical screening in Australia
If you’re aged over 25, you should get yourself checked every 5 years.
Cervical cancer affects over 900 women in Australia each year. It is one of the most preventable cancers in Australia.
Here’s everything you need to know about getting checked.
What is the national cervical screening program?
The National Cervical Screening Program has halved the rate of cervical cancer in Australia.
Up until last year, the National Cervical Screening Program involved making sure women had Pap smear tests regularly. In December, Pap smear tests were replaced by the Cervical Screening Test as it’s more accurate.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer affects over 900 women in Australia each year. But the good news is it’s one of the most preventable cancers in Australia when caught early. Thanks to the new test, up to 30% more women can be protected from cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer affects the cervix. There are a few symptoms to keep an eye out for, including unusual bleeding from the vagina and pain during sex.
There are two types of cervical cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma that are found in cells in the outer surface of the cervix
- Adenocarcinoma which is found higher in the cervix in the glandular cells
Cervical cancer can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is an infection that is relatively common, but it can cause changes in the cervical cells that may lead to cancer. HPV is sexually transmitted and doesn’t have any symptoms.
While HPV often goes away on its own, it can sometimes remain in the cervix and develop into cervical cancer. It can take up to 15 years for an HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer, but if it’s caught early the infection can be monitored.
What is the Cervical Cancer Screening Test?
In the past, a Pap smear test was used to identify any changes in cervical cells. The Cervical Screening Test is effectively an HPV test. The HPV screening looks specifically for HPV because it causes cancer. This means the Cervical Screening Test is more accurate than a Pap smear.
The Cervical Screening Test only looks for HPV. It is not able to detect other forms of cancer, like ovarian cancer, or any other sexually transmitted infections.
When should you get a cervical screening?
If you have any of the symptoms of cervical cancer, you should see a doctor. If you don’t have any symptoms, you should have your first Cervical Screening Test when you’re 25.
If you used to have Pap smear tests, then you should have your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap smear test. Once you have had your first Cervical Screening Test you should continue to have one every five years until you are 74.
If you’re over 25 , you should speak to a health care provider to arrange your first Cervical Screening Test.
If you get the all clear after a test, you only need to test again every five years.
How does the test work?
The Cervical Screening Test can be done by:
- General practitioners and other doctors
- Nurses who are trained in cervical screening
- Medical specialists like gynaecologists
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers
The actual test is fairly quick and simple. The health care provider will insert a speculum to help them see your cervix. They then use a small brush to remove some cells from your cervix and send to a laboratory to be examined for HPV. If you would prefer to have a female doctor - you can request one
If the laboratory finds that you have HPV, they will then complete a second test on the sample cells. You will also have a follow-up consultation. It normally takes just a week or two to get your results.
How much does Cervical Screening Test cost?
The Cervical Screening Test has two separate costs. Both the doctor who does the test and the laboratory that analyses it will charge you a fee. Medicare rebates cover both of these costs but you may still have some out-of-pocket expenses.
The amount you may have to pay will depend on whether you see a public doctor, one who bulk bills or a private doctor. If you see a public doctor or one who bulk bills, you should ask them to bulk bill your Cervical Screening Test.
If you see a private doctor you can still claim part of the cost from Medicare. Your private health insurance Extras cover the remainder if you have ‘preventative checks’ or similar listed in your policy.
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