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Experts recommend dramatic changes to cervical cancer screening

Date posted: 29 April 2014

The Australian government Medical Services Advisory Committee recommends women should have their first cervical cancer screening at 25 years of age and a new self administered test be introduced for Indigenous women and others who have not been screened in the past six years.

Cervical cancer is the 12th most common cancer in Australian women. In 2009, the latest year for which data is available, there were nine new cases of cervical cancer and two deaths per 100,000 Australian women aged 20 to 69 years. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, there were more than 22 new cases and more than 10 deaths a year per 100,000 women.

The committee recommended that Pap smears be replaced by a new test for human papillomavirus or HPV from 2016. While Pap smears detect abnormal cell changes, research had shown the new test to be more effective because it detected the virus that causes such abnormalities. But women would face the same procedure for collecting the sample for HPV testing as for a Pap test, with a doctor or nurse taking a small sample of cells from the cervix to send to a laboratory for examination.

While women are currently advised to have a Pap test every two years, the new test would only be required every five years.  The MSAC found that the HPV test every five years is even more effective than screening with a Pap test every two years.

Australia has seen a rapid drop in high grade precancerous abnormalities since the HPV vaccination was introduced in 2007. The committee found the protective effect of vaccination would further reduce the already small benefits of screening women under 25 years old. Women vaccinated against HPV will still require cervical screening as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

Joe Tooma, the chief executive of the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation said he hoped more women would be screened at the recommended interval under the proposed new system. More than 40% of women are not screened as often as guidelines recommend, and these women are believed to account for about 80% of cervical cancer cases.

Source: Brisbane Times


Last updated: 29 April 2014
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