Younger women complacent about cervical screening

Wednesday 5 August, 2015

A campaign launching in Victoria this week will remind women overdue for their two-yearly Pap test that no matter how awkward, cervical screening provides peace of mind. About half of young Victorian women aren’t having Pap tests every two years, despite knowing they should.

The latest statistics show that only 52% of Victorian women aged 25 to 29 years are having two-yearly Pap tests, which is below the Victorian average of 60.4%1.

A concerning trend PapScreen Manager Hiranthi Perera said the campaign was vital to ensure that women do not delay screening, ahead of major changes to the National Cervical Screening Program due in mid-2017.

“Our research shows that many young Victorian women are complacent about their cervical screening. While most of these women know they need regular Pap tests, even if they have had the HPV vaccine, only half of these women continue to screen2,” said Ms Perera.

In Victoria, 83% of women diagnosed with cervical cancer have either never had a Pap test or did not have them regularly before diagnosis1.

Young women aged 25 to 29 who have had the HPV vaccine are screening 13% less for cervical cancer than unvaccinated women. Only 45.2% of HPV-vaccinated women participate in regular screening versus 58.7% of unvaccinated women of the same age3.

While the HPV vaccine protects against the two HPV types that cause around 70% of cervical cancers, it does not protect against all cancer-causing HPV types.

“The vast majority of Pap test results are normal, so for peace of mind about your health, book a Pap test if you are due,” Ms Perera said.

Real story Tahlia Meredith, 31 of East Melbourne had the HPV vaccine and had regular Pap tests. At 29, she was caught by surprise when her abnormal Pap test later led to the diagnosis of cervical cancer after follow-up diagnostic tests.

Pap tests are still required after the HPV vaccine because the vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. It also cannot protect from HPV infections a woman has already been exposed to.

She required laser treatment, a cone biopsy and keyhole surgery to remove the cancerous cells. “I’m lucky that my treatment didn’t need to be too aggressive because the abnormalities were picked up early,” Tahlia said.

Now Tahlia requires more frequent check-ups and was told that because part of her cervix was removed with treatment, she would need more frequent check-ups and future pregnancies would be classified as high-risk.

Ms Perera said it’s particularly important for young women to continue regular cervical screening if they have plans to start a family. -more-

“It’s a devastating reality that treatment of aggressive cervical cancer can prevent a woman from bearing children but the vast majority of cervical cancers can be treated easily and successfully when detected early,” she said.

Tahlia’s message is clear to anyone who is overdue for their Pap test: “If there’s something to be found, a Pap test can find it early. If you get on top of it, there’s a good chance it’s treatable.”

Find a local Pap test provider for peace of mind at www.papscreen.org.au/forwomen/peaceof-mind

About PapScreen Victoria
PapScreen Victoria is a communications and recruitment program funded by the Victorian
Department of Health and Human Services as part of the National Cervical Screening Program
and is coordinated by Cancer Council Victoria.

Interview and photo opportunities
Available with Hiranthi Perera, PapScreen Victoria Manager, Tahlia Meredith and other cervical
cancer survivors.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Ali Hickerson on 0455 043 324.

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1 Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry Statistical Report 2013 , published January 2015.
2 Based on a phone survey conducted by the Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer in 2012. 579 Victorian female respondents completed this survey, aged between 18-29 years.
3 Cross-sectional analysis of linked data from the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry and the National HPV Vaccination Program Register for 25-29-year old women in Victoria. Medical Journal of Australia Cervical screening rates for women vaccinated against human papillomavirus , September 2014.

Updated: 05 Aug, 2015