You might hear the words ‘cervical screening’ being used instead of the old ‘pap test’—maybe at your doctor’s, at a community centre or Liverpool Women’s Health Centre. Your cervix is the opening of your uterus (womb) and if infected by certain viruses, it can lead to cancer. Cervical screening is to test your cervix for early signs of these viruses so that any future cancer can be prevented.
The National Cervical Screening Program replaces what were previously known as ‘pap smears’. The procedure is quick and simple and essentially involves taking a sample of cells from your cervix that will then be tested for the presence of viruses. This test is more accurate than the previous pap test.
Do I need the test?
If you are a woman aged 25-74 years and have ever been sexually active, it is recommended that you get screened every 5 years. Your first test should be either when you turn 25, or two years after your last pap test.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, pain or discharge at any age, it’s always a good idea to speak to a health professional who can guide you about what’s best to do.
How often do I need the test?
Usually, every 5 years if your result is normal. If there are any issues, you may need to be screened more frequently but your healthcare provider will discuss this with you.
Where can I get the test done?
You can get the test done wherever you feel the most comfortable! Here at Liverpool Women’s Health Centre, we have a female nurse practitioner and doctor who can provide safe and comfortable cervical screening for you. You can also visit your local GP, a community health centre, a family planning clinic, a sexual health clinic or an Aboriginal Medical Service.
Will the test hurt?
Whilst the test may feel uncomfortable, it should never be painful. Most women find that the reassurance that the test can offer outweighs any slight discomfort. If you have any concerns, have a chat with your healthcare provider and they should be able to address those concerns.
What are these viruses and how can they affect me? What if my test results are positive for the virus?
The virus that can lead to cervical cancer is called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are many different strains of HPV, but in particular strains 16 and 18 can increase the likelihood of cervical cancer. These infections are sexually transmitted through genital contact and can progressively damage the cervical canal through abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. The ‘transformation zone’ of the cervix is the area that is the most vulnerable, and is most susceptible to cervical cancer following a HPV infection.
If you are positive for the virus, it does not mean that you have cancer! It usually takes more than 10 years for cervical cancer to develop if you have the virus. In fact, many women might have a positive test result and find that their next test is normal, because their immune system has cleared the virus by itself. Taking the test allows for any abnormalities to be identified and treated early in order to prevent cancer. You’ll more likely be referred to a specialist (gynaecologist) for a follow-up test called a colposcopy which will look at your cervix in more detail, and be monitored regularly. If needed, you may be offered treatment. If you ever have any concerns, it’s always a good idea to have a chat with your healthcare provider.
I’d like more information, please.
If you have any questions or concerns, book an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss these. This could be our nurse practitioner here at Liverpool Women’s Health Centre, your local GP or your gynaecologist. Call us on 96013555.
For more information about the program, it might be worth checking out cancerscreening.gov.au/cervical or calling 13 15 56.