A new screening approach to help prevent cervical cancer has been recommended by the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) whose findings from its last meeting has been released.
The Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) has recommended to the Australian Government that a new cervical screening test for women should replace the current Pap smear.
The independent expert committee accepted the latest scientific evidence that shows this new screening approach will work even better by detecting human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which we now know to be the first step in developing cervical cancer.
Following a comprehensive review of the current evidence of the latest medical research, scientific developments and evidence around cervical cancer, MSAC has recommended for both HPV vaccinated and unvaccinated women that:
an HPV test should be undertaken every 5 years;
cervical screening should commence at 25 years of age;
women should have an exit test between 70 and 74 years of age; and
women with symptoms (including pain or bleeding) can have a cervical test at any age.
MSAC found that a HPV test every five years is even more effective than, and just as safe as, screening with a Pap test every two years.
MSAC also determined that a HPV test every five years can save more lives and women will need fewer tests than in the current two yearly Pap test program.
HPV vaccinated women still require cervical screening as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
The procedure for collecting the sample for HPV testing is the same as the procedure for having a Pap smear. A doctor or nurse will still take a small sample of cells from the woman's cervix to send away to a laboratory to be examined.
Cervical screening is provided by doctors and nurses in general practices, family planning clinics, women's health centres, rural and remote clinics, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.
The MSAC recommendations build upon Australia's national school-based HPV vaccination programme by recommending the establishment of the world's first national cervical screening programme, using a primary HPV test, to prevent cervical cancer.
The MSAC recommendations will now be considered by government after extensive consultation with state and territory health authorities, medical and pathology experts and community stakeholders.
Until these recommendations are considered, women should continue to have two–yearly Pap tests, which have already successfully halved the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer over the past 22 years.
Pending policy approval of these recommendations, it is anticipated that changes will not be implemented prior to 2016.
The MSAC recommendations are posted at: www.msac.gov.au