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This is why Australia no longer does the pap test and still has lowest rates of cervical cancer

Since its invention in 1928, the Pap Smear has saved thousands of women’s lives by detecting the early signs of cervical cancer. When caught early, women have a 93% survival rate, as compared to a 13% chance when not found until the final stage of this deadly cancer. (1)

New knowledge on the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the development of cervical cancer has provided insight on an even more effective screening process that could save hundreds — if not thousands —of women.

Understanding Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors and Symptoms

cervical cancer

Cervical cancer occurs when there are changes in the DNA of the cells of the cervix, the narrow part of the uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina. These malignant tumors can then spread to the lymph nodes and to the rest of the body. (1)

Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer (1)(2)

  • Smoking
  • Giving birth many times
  • Sexual activity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Low socio-economic standard
  • Having used, or being born to a mother who used, Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a form of estrogen used between 1940 and 1971 to treat miscarriages
  • Use of oral contraceptives
  • HPV

The Role of HPV in Cervical Cancer

HPV and cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that can infect the cervix. There are many different types of HPV, but certain strains cause abnormal changes to occur in the DNA of your cells that develop into cancer. Out of the 40 HPV strains that can infect the cervix, 14 of them are oncogenic, or cancer-causing.

Types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers, and most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have had a previous or concurrent HPV infection. (1)(2)

Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

As women, we generally know that there can be variations in our reproductive organs throughout the different stages in our cycle.  Paying attention to what is normal for you first, then seeing if you experience any of the following signs is important to early detection of cervical cancer:

Early (1):

  • Abnormal discharge (pale, watery, pink, brown, or bloody between periods, increased amount, or foul smelling)
  • Unusually long or heavy periods
  • Irregular bleeding (after sex, menopause, or vaginal exam)
  • Pain during sex

Late (1):

  • Difficulty using the washroom (both urine and stool)
  • Blood in pee or stool
  • Loss of bladder control or constipation
  • Pain in pelvis, lower back, and down one or both legs
  • edema in legs

The New Screening Test For Cervical Cancer

Australia will be the first country to roll out a new screening test for cervical cancer that is scientifically proven to be even more effective in detecting early stage cervical cancer than the pap smear. New testing technology for HPV, and the success of the HPV vaccine in school-age children, is what prompted the change. (3)

Dr. Deborah Bateson is excited about the changes:

“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.” she wrote in the Sydney Harold.

Though the technology is different, the actual testing process for women will largely be the same. It will be offered every five years from ages 25 until 70-74, as opposed to every two years for a pap smear. The age change is thanks to the success of the HPV vaccine, making cases of cervical cancer in younger women and girls almost non-existent. (3)

Women who test positive for high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 will be immediately referred for further testing, those who test positive for intermediate risk types will have a follow-up test in 12 months, and those who test negative will continue with their normal screening schedule. (3)

“Women with a negative HPV test can be reassured that their risk of developing cervical disease within the next five years is extremely low, lower than for a Pap smear, which is why we can safely extend the interval between tests” says Dr. Bateson.

Hope for Sexual Abuse Victims

One of the highlights of the new screening process is the ability for women to take a vaginal swab themselves and send it in to be tested. Though this self-screening is less effective than a test taken from the cervix, it allows for women who previously never got tested due to cultural limitations or past sexual abuse to be examined. (3)

5 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cervical Cancer

  1. See if the HPV Vaccine Is Right For You
    • Educate yourself and speak with your doctor to the benefits and side effects of the HPV vaccine.   It has been seen to be highly effective at preventing HPV infection, and therefore the development of cervical cancer. The CDC recommends that both girls and boys should be vaccinated when they are 11 or 12 years old. (1)(2)
  2. Reduce Exposure to HPV
    • Having fewer sexual partners or being in a monogamous relationship lower your risk of HPV exposure. Using condoms, while not 100% effective, significantly reduces your chance of being infected. (1)(2)
  3. Don’t Smoke
    • Like many other cancers and diseases, smoking will increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. Try these methods to quit smoking for good. (1)(2)
  4. Eat Your Veggies
    • We all know how important diet is for our health and preventing any number of diseases. A diet high in vegetables and fruits reduces your risk of developing cervical cancer. (1)(2)
  5. Regular Screening
    • Until this new screening test is available, continue with your regularly scheduled pap smears, and pay attention to your body. The sooner changes are detected, the better your chances are of survival. (1)(2)

Cervical cancer is preventable, especially when caught in the early precancerous stages. Share this article to educate yourself and your loved ones on the signs, symptoms, and screening process for cervical cancer – it could save a life.