From 1st December 2017, the Australian Pap smear program will be reinvented.

As GP’s, we know that no woman looks forward to their Pap Smear. As such, the major change of an increase in the interval between testing from 2 to 5 years can only be a good thing!

Over the last 25 years, the Australian Pap smear program has seen a highly significant reduction in deaths from cervical cancer. Over this time, we have also gained a huge amount of knowledge about the way cervical cancer behaves.

We know that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is necessary to its development. This vital point has resulted in the HPV vaccination (Gardasil) being introduced to the national immunisation program. This in turn has meant a major reduction in the rates of HPV infection.

Importantly, we have also learnt that when exposed to HPV, most people will clear the infection naturally. Even if the HPV causes cell changes, there is a chance that over time these changes will revert to normal.

The upshot is that the new program will now change from looking at cervical cells for changes to testing specifically for HPV. If HPV is detected, further analysis of the sample will occur that will determine if any treatment is required.

So, does this mean goodbye to the beloved speculum examination? Unfortunately, no it does not.  For an accurate HPV test, we still need to see the cervix clearly in order to take the best sample possible.

Important points to know:

–          Screening will now start from age 25 (rather than the previous 18-20)

–          Screening will be recommended until age 74 (rather than the previous 69)

–          You will only need examination and testing every 5 years rather than every 2 years

–          Even if you had the Gardasil (HPV) vaccination, you still need screening

–          If you have had a recent abnormal pap smear, continue with your repeat screening plan as advised by your GP or gynaecologist (this will incorporate the new HPV testing)

–          You will receive your reminder letter to have your screening at the time you are due for your routine test. At this point, you will start on the new program.

–          Any unusual vaginal bleeding, pain or discharge should be assessed by your GP regardless of when your last screening was.

Whilst we will be seeing you less for the examination you’ve loved for so long, we still need to see you for other important preventative measures in the meantime. In the long 5 years between screening, please talk to your GP about contraception, breast screening, sexual issues and general health matters.

– Dr Liz French