Health experts now recommend women in Australia to undergo their first cervical pap smear or pap test at age 25 instead of ages 18 to 20 after a study found a significant decline of cervical cancer in Australia. This new approach by the Federal Government’s renewed National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) will be effective in May 2017.
A study from the Cancer Council NSW, which was published in the Medical Journal of Australia, show that cervical cancer in Australia has declined by 50 percent since the National Cervical Screening Program was enacted in 1991. It turns out that the pap test had no significant effect on cervical cancer incidence in women between the ages of 20 and 24. Experts consider this extremely low.
Instead of the current pap smear exam, health workers will conduct the human papilloma virus (HPV) test instead. HPV test will be carried out every five years, whereas pap smear will be conducted every two years.
“This test will be a test for HPV, the virus that virtually causes all cervical cancers, and because this is a more accurate test than the current pap smear test, it doesn’t need to be done as frequently,” says Megan Smith, the study’s author. “The pap smear needs to be done every two years. This new, more accurate, test will only need to be done every five years.”
The change is also supported by a 2015 study from the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC), which showed that conducting HPV test every five years would be more effective than pap smear tests at protecting against cervical cancer.
Researcher Smith adds that HPV vaccination is still the best prevention for cervical cancer. Fortunately, most women under the age of 25 have been vaccinated.
The Cancer Council also insists that women must undergo screening from age 25 as soon as possible once the HPV test replaces the pap smear test.