Self-testing for cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers if detected early. In a world-first, women in Australia, if eligible, can now visit their GP for a self-test. This is a game-changer and a significant step forward in eliminating cervical cancer in Australia.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the cervix.
The cervix is part of the female reproductive system and is located at the lower part of the uterus forming the entrance from the vagina to the uterus.
In 70 per cent of cases, cervical cancer is caused by a specific variant of the human papillomavirus infection, also known simply as HPV. It is a common virus with more than 100 variants, with at least 14 being cancer-causing.
HPV types 16 and 18 are linked to most cervical cancer and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
Worldwide, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women, particularly in underprivileged and vulnerable communities. It shouldn’t be this way; with better education on the importance of HPV testing, we can eliminate cervical cancer.
A preventable and treatable cancer.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers in women if detected, diagnosed, and managed early enough.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a global strategy to eliminate this cancer.
- HPV vaccination for women under 35 protects against the human papillomavirus and can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
- Screening and early treatment of pre-cancerous lesions.
- Prompt referral for surgical treatment.
However, this can only happen with increased testing of women over 25 and like so many cancers, early detection is the key to a higher survival rate.
University of Queensland researcher and 2006 Australian of the year Professor Ian Frazer first started developing a vaccine for HPV in the 1990s, along with his colleague, the late Dr Jian Zhou.
In 2006, the TGA approved Gardasil, and only a year later, Australia became the first country that rolled out a national HPV vaccination program. In 2013, the Australian government extended the vaccination program to include teenage boys. Source: Cancer Council NSW
Up to 90 per cent of women who die from cervical cancer, which is preventable, are either not up-to-date with their screening or haven’t participated in screening despite being eligible. Source Healthdirect Australia.
In 2017, women worldwide let out a sigh of relief when the PAP Smear screening test was replaced with the HPV test. Although the collection process with a medical instrument known as a speculum was the same, the new HPV Screening meant the test was only required every five years.
Now, if you’ve had a Pap Smear or HPV test, then you know this can be an uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassing experience.
And, once you reach menopause? With less oestrogen, the lining of the vagina becomes thinner and less flexible, and it can be not just uncomfortable but painful. In fact, for some women, the experience is so uncomfortable two weeks of prep time with an estradiol pessary may be required to get your vagina ready!
Oh, the joys of womanhood. But, there’s a new way forward for cervical screening in Australia, and I’m pretty excited to tell you about it.
A new test is now available for women visiting their GP for the HPV Test. From July 1 2022, Australian women can now self-collect a sample while visiting their GP or health care professional.
How does the test work?
First up, contact your health care professional to check if they are offering the self-test and if you’re eligible.
Once at your appointment, your doctor will provide instructions, and you’ll be shown to a private area within the medical practice to conduct the self-test.
Your healthcare professional will give you a swab to insert into the vagina, where you’ll be required to turn it several times to collect the cells from inside the vagina. Then return it to your doctor, and they’ll send it off to the lab.
Recent studies have shown the self-test is just as accurate as the current HPV test.
The president of the Royal Australian College of GPs, Dr Karen Price, said the test will “be a game changer for cervical cancer screening in Australia.”
Dr Price went on to say, for some patients, a self-test alone may not be appropriate, and a speculum test is still required, including for patients with symptoms suggestive of cervical cancer, people being treated for abnormal cells on their cervice associated with HPV, and patients with a number of other conditions.
And now you?
If more women are tested for HPV infection, we’ll be well on our way to eliminating cervical cancer in Australia by 2035, which would be a wonderful thing.
If you’ve been putting off your cervical screening test, then now is the time to speak with your doctor about the new HPV self-test.
If you’re as happy to hear this news as I am, please share this post with the women in your life. You could be saving a life. Just click on one of the share buttons at the bottom of this post.
If you’ve got a question for me, you can reach me here.
Oh and before you go, and while we’re down there if you’re looking for new ways to get those Kegels done, you might like this article right here.
See you next time,