Screening is the use of tests to detect a disease in people who have no symptoms.
Screening for cervical cancer:
In December 2017, the Pap smear test was replaced with the National Cervical Screening Program. The procedure is similar to the Pap smear test but tests for HPV infection. If your test results are normal, you will only need to be tested every 5 years. All women aged between 25 and 74 years of age can get screened for free every 5 years as part of the program.
Apart from screening for cervical cancer, screening is not used for any of the other gynaecological cancers.
The HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine protects against infection with some types of HPV, which are the major cause of cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccines currently available in Australia are called Gardasil 9 and Cervarix.
Gardasil 9 protects against nine types of HPV:
- Two types that are the main causes of cervical cancer in Australia (types 16 and 18)
- The five next most common types that are associated with cervical cancer (types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58)
- Two types that cause 90% of genital warts (types 6 and 11).
Cervarix protects against two types of HPV that are the main causes of cervical cancer (types 16 and 18).
Both types of vaccine are very safe and very effective.
Who should be vaccinated?
HPV vaccine is most effective when it’s given to young people before they become sexually active. This is because HPV infection often occurs around the time a person starts having sex, and the vaccine only protects people who have not been exposed to those types of HPV before.
Girls and boys aged 12–13 can receive the HPV vaccine for free under the National Immunisation Program at their school.
Females up to age 45 can be vaccinated by their doctor, but there may be a cost involved. However, because the vaccine only protects people who have never been exposed to those types of HPV, the benefit of vaccinating older people may not be as large – older age groups are more likely to have had more sexual partners and therefore are more likely to have already been exposed to several types of HPV.