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Pap tests still vital despite new cervical cancer vaccine for older women

Tuesday 14 August, 2007

Women are being urged to continue with two yearly Pap tests as Cervarix -the second cervical cancer vaccine- becomes available today.

Cervarix, manufactured by GSK, is the second cervical cancer vaccine to be released onto the Australian market.  It is approved for girls and women aged 10 to 45.  Cervarix protects against types 16 and 18 of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is responsible for about 70 per cent of cervical cancers in Australia.

Kate Broun, Manager of PapScreen Victoria said, "The cervical cancer vaccine is a medical breakthrough, however it's most effective if given to young girls before they commence sexual activity. For many older women who have had sex it is difficult to determine if the vaccine is beneficial for them. In most cases, it will have a reduced benefit because it is likely they have already been exposed to one or both HPV types that are protected by the vaccine.  For this reason, having a regular Pap test is still vital for all women, whether they choose to have the vaccine or not.

"As HPV testing is not type-specific it is not helpful in determining which HPV type(s) a woman may have been previously exposed to.  For a woman who is already sexually active, it is an individual decision about whether or not Cervarix is beneficial for them; a decision that should take into account their risk of exposure to HPV as well as the cost of the vaccine, which is about $450. Women are advised to speak to their doctor about whether or not Cervarix will be beneficial for them.

"Given the risk of cervical cancer increases with age, older women are of particular concern to us, however, it's important for all women aged 18 to 69 to have regular Pap tests.  Even for vaccinated women, two-yearly Pap tests remain critically important to detect abnormal cervical cell changes. This is because the cervical cancer vaccine does not protect against all types of cancer-causing HPV. It is effective against two specific types of HPV that cause up to 70% of cervical cancers," added Ms Broun.

Women who have questions about Pap tests, HPV or cervical cancer can ring the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or visit


To arrange an interview with Kate Broun, Program Manager of PapScreen Victoria please contact Clare Price on 0403 577 001 or Emma Fay 0415 477 537.