The New Pap Smear Test: What You Need to Know

February 01, 2018

Written by Amanda Green, Pharmacist. 

Attention ladies! If you haven’t heard the good news already, changes were made last year to the National Cervical Screening Program. The Pap smear has now been replaced with a new Cervical Screening Test, otherwise known as a HPV test.

Why have pap smears been replaced?
Traditionally, Pap smear tests have detected changes in our cervical cells but the HPV test will detect the virus in our cervix before cells have a chance to change. This is a more accurate test and by looking for the presence of the HPV virus, it will allow health practitioners to detect any potential problems earlier.

What is HPV?
HPV is a very common virus, which is spread during sexual activity. There are usually no symptoms of infection so you may have it at some point in your life without even knowing it. Your body’s immune system will naturally clear most types of HPV within one to two years but the danger of contracting HPV is in the changes the virus can make to your cervical cells. This is why regular screenings are so critical.

What does the new HPV test involve?
The procedure itself is carried out in a similar way to a Pap smear, so physically you may not notice any difference from previous examinations.

The most important change is that the screening has been changed from two to five years. This is because research has demonstrated that screening for HPV every five years is more effective than, and just as safe as, screening with a Pap smear every two years.

If your test does not indicate that you have a HPV infection, it is safe for you to wait five years between tests. However, if HPV infection is detected, you may require more frequent re-testing or may be referred to a specialist.

Who needs to get the HPV test?
Women who are between 25 to 74 years of age, who have ever been sexually active and have a cervix, should be tested every five years.

Your first test is due two years after your last Pap smear. If you have been vaccinated for HPV, you will still require regular HPV tests. If you have previously shown abnormal cells in your cervix or have had a hysterectomy, you should discuss your requirements with your healthcare provider.

Where is the HPV test available?
The HPV test can be carried out by a doctor or a women’s health nurse at any of the following locations:

  • General practice
  • Family planning clinic
  • Sexual health clinic
  • Women’s health centre
  • Community health centre
  • Aboriginal medical service

Want more information?
If you are uncertain about anything related to the changes, speak to your GP. More information can be also be found from the Cancer Council here and the National Cervical Screening Program here.

This post was written by Amanda Green. Amanda is a pharmacist with more than 10 years of both hospital and community pharmacy experience. She is a mother of two young children and is passionate about health and fitness.

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