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December 14, 2021

Dreading Your Next Cervical Screening? There’s Now a DIY Option For You!

Kristina Roach
Dreading Your Next Cervical Screening? There’s Now a DIY Option For You!
Let’s face it – when we hear the words ‘cervical screening’, most of us want to duck for cover. The stirrups. The speculum. The sheer embarrassment of lying on an exam table, legs akimbo. 

But the dreaded trip to the GP is about to get a whole lot easier for Aussies with a cervix. 

In November, the Morrison Government revealed a major shake up to the National Cervical Screening Program, announcing self-collection would be more accessible for those who are keen to give it a go. 

An additional $5.6 million has been invested to support the roll out, too. 

Wait, what’s self collection? 

A self-collected test still requires a consultation with your doctor or nurse, but they are conducted in a private bathroom or behind a curtain. Studies have shown that they are just as accurate as one taken by a healthcare professional. 

Self-collection has actually been available to certain women aged over 30 since 2017. But from July 1 2022, anyone eligible for a cervical screening test can opt to collect their own sample. Yep, that’s right. No cold speculum. No stirrups. No anxiety-inducing pelvic exam. 

Self collection allows patients to take their own vaginal sample using a swab that looks a little like an oversized cotton bud. The sample is then processed by a qualified technician. If HPV, the virus that causes 99% of cervical cancers, is detected, the patient will be referred back to their healthcare provider for follow-up care. 

If you were a teenager in 2007 or later, it’s likely you’ve been vaccinated against HPV. Most Aussies receive the vaccine in the early years of high school, but it’s still important to have regular screenings, even if you are fully vaxxed. 

Remind me how often I’m meant to be screened for cervical cancer? 

In Australia, people with a cervix aged 25 - 74 are encouraged to have a cervical screening every five years. If that’s got you thinking that you might be overdue, you’re definitely not alone. 

Cervical screening rates have plummeted during the pandemic, with more than half of us skipping out on them. 

This is why self-collection will be such a game-changer. The process is considered far less invasive, especially for those who have been hesitant to front up for regular screenings in the past.

While you’d be hard pressed to find any woman who doesn’t cringe at the thought of a cervical screening, for some, barriers such as past trauma or cultural sensitivity see them shy away from the test altogether. 

But by giving patients the choice of how their screening is done, participation in the National Cervical Screening Program is expected to rise. 

I heard a rumour that Australia might eliminate cervical cancer. Is it true?

It’s no rumour. Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable and it could be eliminated in Australia as soon as 2035. 

For this, we can thank our world-leading National Cervical Screening and HPV Immunisation Programs, which have been profiled in the soon to be released feature documentary Conquering Cancer. This film tracks the remarkable journey towards eliminating cervical cancer not just here, but everywhere. It’s a call to action to decision-makers across the globe to prioritise the prevention methods that work: HPV vaccination and cervical screenings. At the very least, Conquering Cancer will remind people with a cervix to do the screening test they might have been putting off. 

If that’s you, hot foot it to your GP and ask about the screening options available to you. While there’s still a few months until self-collection is open to everyone, you could be eligible now.

Conquering Cancer will be released on World Cancer Day, February 4 2022. To find a session near you or to learn more, please visit www.ConqueringCancerCampaign.com

Click Here To Check out- National Cervical Screening Program: How to take your own sample for an HPV test-

Photo Credits: iStock

If you'd like to read more on women's health, read our Q&A with oncologist Dr Yeh Chen Lee here.

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