Cervical Cancer Screening / Pap Smear
The cervix is the opening of the womb and can be seen at the top of the vagina with the help of a speculum (device that holds apart the vaginal walls) and a good light. Most cancer of the cervix is caused by strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is a common sexually transmitted infection and most often a partner who gives it to you will have no signs that they are carrying it. The HPV virus can enter the cells of the cervix. The body will either deal will these damaged cells or they will undergo cancerous change.
Since the introduction of the National Cervical Cancer Screening Program in 1991, the number of deaths due to cervical cancer has been reduced by 50%. Regular screening of all sexually active women detects early cell changes that can then be more closely monitored or treated, depending on the severity.
Physical symptoms of cervical cancer may only occur once the cancer has become established. The only way to detect and treat the changes in cervical cells early is by regular sampling of these cells. The cell smear on a glass slide is sent to a Lab to be checked under a microscope. The smear test was named after Georgios Papanikolaou, the Greek gynaecologist who invented it.
Who should have a Smear Test?
All women aged 18 to 70 years who have ever been sexually active should be screened every 2 years, even if they have had the HPV vaccine. While the HPV vaccine is very effective in preventing 70% of cervical cancer-causing strains of HPV (HPV 16 and18), there are still a few strains of the virus for which the vaccine does not offer protection.
Abnormal pap result - what does this mean?
If you are called back because of an "abnormal" smear test result, in most casesthis does not mean you have cancer. Cells go through various stages of "abnormality" before becoming cancerous. An abnormal pap test means that the cells collected do not look normal. The doctor who took the test is notified by the pathologist in the Lab about the degree or grade of abnormality. They will usually advise a course of action which can range from repeating the smear test earlier that the usual 2 years or being referred immediately to a specialist who can use more advanced equipment (“colposcopy”) to get a better sample and treat the abnormal area.
How We Care
All of our female doctors can perform smear tests and we have a female Pap smear accredited nurse.
We understand that a Pap smear is probably not a woman's favourite activity and two years seems to come around very quickly. Our aim is to make the procedure as quick and comfortable as possible. We ask that when making an appointment for a smear test you request a long appointment to ensure that adequate time with the doctor is allocated. The result of the smear test should be back with your doctor within a week of the procedure being done.
Our doctors will send you a reminder letter when you are due for your next 2 yearly screening. If you have agreed to be registered with the National Cervical Screening Registry, they may also send you a reminder letter. The good news is that in 2017 a new National Cervical Screening Program is likely to be implemented. It will be five yearly for women aged 25-74. This is because of the anticipated introduction of newer technology that genetically detects HPV from a sample without the need to look for cell changes under the microscope. Women who have avoided being screened will also have the opportunity to self-test and return to the doctor if HPV is found on their sample. These changes will be much appreciated by both female GPs and their female patients.
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