With the National Cervical Screening Program undergoing changes, it's natural to wonder whether your health will benefit. Depending on your age and past medical history, you might have a lot of questions. However, by understanding the basics, you might feel more at ease with what lies ahead.
You'll attend fewer screenings, but the results are more accurate
The National Cervical Screening Program will use a test that feels the same. However, it now tests more rigorously for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV has a strong link with the development of cervical cancer. As such, the new test doesn't just detect pre-cancerous changes; it identifies whether you're at higher risk of developing cancer later on.
Because of the increase in accuracy, you no longer need to attend every two years. Instead, you'll attend every five years between the ages of 25 and 74.
The age that screening begins will change, but there's no need to worry
Under the old system, your first test would occur at the age of 18. Today, the medical world recognises that testing at an early age isn't conducive to reducing your risk of developing cervical cancer.
The new test, like the old one, detects cellular changes that may indicate a risk of cancer. In most cases, when a laboratory professional detects cellular changes, the patient doesn't go on to develop cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, between the ages of 18 and 25, you'll encounter changes that are very similar to those that occur before cancer. This causes undue anxiety in an age group where this type of carcinoma is incredibly rare. At present, there is no evidence that early screening reduces a woman's lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer.
Clearing up a few cervical screening program myths
Finally, it's worth noting some of the National Cervical Screening Program myths that could affect your health. No matter what you've heard, keep the following advice in mind:
- Even with the new test, you should undergo screening after the menopause or if you are not sexually active
- You should attend the new test if you are a post-operative transgender woman
- It is not unsafe to wait more than two years between tests. As cervical cancer is slow growing, waiting five years is acceptable
If you find the recent changes to the screening program confusing, speak to a healthcare practitioner. Although the timings and nature of the test are changing, regular attendance remains important. The new test is effective and mirrors many of the programs that currently exist worldwide.