Health experts urge young women to have regular Pap tests after the release of concerning new research

Monday 1 September, 2014
  • Pap test rates 10–13 % lower among vaccinated women
  • New online video and letter campaign to increase awareness

Cancer Council Victoria and Victorian Cytology Service Inc are reminding young women that even if they've had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, regular cervical screening is still essential to prevent cervical cancer. 

New research published in the Medical Journal of Australia today shows that women who have received the HPV vaccine are less likely to undergo cervical screening than their unvaccinated counterparts.

Using data from the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry and the National HPV Vaccination Program Register, the authors found that Pap test rates were 13 per cent lower among vaccinated women aged 25 to 29 in 2010–2011 than unvaccinated women in the same age group (45.2 per cent versus 58.7 per cent). For women aged 20 to 24, Pap test rates were 10 per cent lower in vaccinated women than unvaccinated women (37.6 per cent versus 47.7 per cent).

A Pap test looks for abnormal changes to the cells on the cervix, which if left undetected and untreated, could develop into cervical cancer.

Executive Director of the Victorian Cytology Service Inc, Associate Professor Marion Saville, says "Despite education messages provided to young women, and their best intentions to undergo regular cervical screening, the results of this new research suggest that vaccinated women are being screened at lower rates than unvaccinated women in Australia."

"The HPV vaccine protects against the two HPV types that cause around 70 per cent of cervical cancers, but does not protect against all cancer-causing HPV types. So it's crucial that young women participate in cervical screening whether they're vaccinated or not, especially once they reach 25."

In an effort to increase cervical screening participation, the Victorian Cervical Cytology Register will write to women aged 25 to 34 who have never had a Pap test to highlight the need for regular cervical screening, even if they've had the HPV vaccine. This $170,000 initiative has been funded by the Victorian State Government and will commence in 2015.

Cancer Council Victoria and PapScreen Victoria have also created a short online video to help relieve some of the anxiety young women feel when having a Pap test and make light of what can be an awkward experience.

Kate Broun, Screening Manager at Cancer Council Victoria, says the new research highlights the need for greater awareness of cervical cancer prevention among young women.

"Historically, younger women are less likely to undergo regular Pap tests than women in older age groups, so the misconception that vaccinated women don't need cervical screening is a real concern."

"We know that Pap tests can be uncomfortable and some women get embarrassed about having them, but screening even if vaccinated is still vitally important for preventing cervical cancer for all women."

The HPV vaccine (Gardasil) is provided to girls and boys aged 12–13 years at school as part of the National HPV Vaccination Program. Until the end of 2014, boys aged 14–15 can also receive the vaccine at school as part of a national catch-up program. For more information on the HPV vaccine visit www.hpvvaccine.org.au

Updated: 01 Sep, 2014