Pap smear replaced by new test

Written by SMH | Deborah Bateson on . Posted in News & Updates

As a women's health doctor for more than 20 years I have taken thousands of Pap smears and taught many hundreds of doctors and nurses the skill of taking cells from the cervix and placing them on a glass slide.

The Pap smear detects pre-cancerous cellular changes and has been the cornerstone of the National Cervical Screening Program since its implementation in 1991. It has served Australian women extremely well and resulted in one of the lowest rates of cervical cancer in the world.

However, there is significant room for improvement. The government announced on Monday the end date for the Pap smear. On December 1, it will be superseded by a new test for the human papilloma virus (HPV).

An online campaign aimed at persuading Malcolm Turnbull to stop this change has gained traction, but while the campaign may be well-intentioned, it is also misinformed. There are many reasons, based on science as well as equity, why the new program should be supported.

The change is based on new knowledge about HPV's role in the development of cervical cancer, new HPV testing technology and, last but not least, the successful uptake of the HPV vaccine by 12 and 13-year-old girls and boys in our school-based vaccination program.

Thanks to many years of pioneering work by scientific and clinical leaders, Australia is on the cusp of rolling out a program which will not only improve our ability to detect changes on the cervix, but also improve screening rates for women who have never had a Pap smear before.

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