The lowdown on the Cervical Screening Program

“Pap Smear” is now an old-fashioned concept …

We’re approaching two years since changing to the new cervical cancer screening test in Australia.  Known as the Cervical Screening Test (CST), this new test is more effective than Pap Smears at preventing cervical cancers, expected to protect up to 30% more women (ref 1).

The CST is done in the same way as the Pap Smear. It involves a visit to either your regular GP or we also have women GPs here at One For Women. It is a short and sometimes only mildly uncomfortable vaginal examination and a swab is collected from your cervix.

The sample is sent to the lab and the results take two to three weeks to be returned to your GP for review.

The old Pap Smear test detected pre-cancerous changes to the cells on the cervix. The new CST detects the presence of the virus that causes the changes to the cells on the cervix, meaning abnormalities are detected much earlier. Cancers are therefore prevented by early detection of the virus and then treatment to remove the virus from the cervix.

The viruses tested for are strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). I like to explain to my patients that HPV is the “common cold” of sexual activity, which is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact.  Most people will have had an HPV infection at some point in their lives, which usually clears by itself within two years.

In some cases it does not clear, and over five to ten years can develop into cervical cancer. Be aware that the HPV vaccine protects against most, but not all strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer. So even if you’ve had the vaccine you still need to have your CST.

There is some really good news for patients about the new test:

  • If your result is normal, you don’t need another test for five years (hooray!). Previously, Pap Smears were recommended every two years.
  • The age at which screening starts has increased from 18 to 25 years.
  • Studies have shown screening for those aged 18-25 is not effective in preventing cervical cancer, as it is very rare in this age group. This is increasingly relevant because those coming through this age group are usually immunised against HPV.

If your result returns abnormal, your GP will discuss the management options with you. Some strains of HPV need more urgent management and referral to a Gynaecologist. Other strains only require repeat testing in one year.

Other things you should know about the new CST

If you are under the age of 25 and have already had a pap smear, your next test is due age 25, or two years after your last pap smear if it was done at the age of 23 or over.

It is okay to have your CST even if you are having your period or other bleeding as the presence of blood does not alter the result. You might feel more comfortable having your appointment towards the end of your period.

If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding at any age you should see your GP for review. Abnormal vaginal bleeding can be bleeding outside of your normal period eg. after intercourse or midcycle bleeding. It can also be very heavy or painful periods.

While it is probably safe to have the CST done during pregnancy, if your previous results have all been normal then it can usually be delayed until after your pregnancy. You should discuss your individual circumstances with one of our doctors.

At One For Women, our GP’s can do your CST and, if required, easily refer you on for any further management by one of our Gynaecologists. For your convenience, this is all done from the one clinic location.

By Dr Erin Horsley, GP/GP Anaesthetist

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top