New ‘At Your Cervix’ campaign encourages young Victorians to prioritise cervical screening as an act of self-care
With less than half of eligible Victorian women or people with a cervix aged 25-34i taking part in the National Cervical Screening Program, Cancer Council Victoria launches an urgent call for young Victorians to prioritise their health by booking their Cervical Screening Test.
Launching today, the multi-channel campaign funded by the Victorian Government, positions cervical screening as the ultimate act of self-care. Cervical screening can prevent the development of cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cell changes early, when successful treatment is more likely.
Screening Program Manager at Cancer Council Victoria, Kate Broun, said while cervical screening is important for all women or people with a cervix aged 25-74, the campaign is tailored for 25-34-year-olds to increase screening rates in this age group, protect the health of our young communities and ultimately save lives.
“We know that cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease. It is shocking that Victoria’s cervical screening participation rates for 25-34-year-old are the lowest nationally, with over half of eligible people currently missing out on the lifesaving test,” Ms Broun said.
“This campaign is especially important now as we know that cervical screening rates have recently declined, some of which is likely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Victoria’s unique situation of a second extended lockdown means that we may face a longer road to recovery. Our message is clear – don’t delay your Cervical Screening Test, health services are taking all the necessary precautions to keep you safe.”
“We are urging young Victorians to take advantage of this opportunity to prevent cervical cancer and avoid invasive treatment – the Cervical Screening Test detects high-risk types of HPV before they have the chance to develop into cervical cancer. One test every five years could save your life – this is the best way to look after your health for the future.”
Victorian Minister for Health, Martin Foley said the campaign was vital in preventing cervical cancer for young Victorians, an integral part of Victoria’s cervical cancer elimination strategy and the Victorian Cancer Plan 2020-2024.ii
“We know that cervical cancer is largely preventable through HPV vaccination and cervical screening and early detection is the key. Our efforts to prevent and detect cancer earlier and encouraging more Victorian women or people with a cervix to get screened is saving lives.”
Underpinning this campaign is Cancer Council Victoria research into the barriers and enablers to cervical screening identified by a group of Victorians aged 25-34. The campaign messaging and creative have been co-designed to respond directly to this research and meet the unique needs of this age group.
The research revealed that over 40 per cent of young Victorians weren’t aware that there are specially trained nurses in Victoria that they can choose for their Cervical Screening Test.
Cervical screening provider and sexual health nurse at Peninsula Health, Robyn Holmes, highlighted that the campaign promotes Cancer Council Victoria’s online directory of cervical screening providers, to raise awareness of alternative provider options.
“We know that some women or people with a cervix in this age group prefer to have a Cervical Screening Test with a female provider, a trauma-informed provider or a sexual health specialist to feel more comfortable about the experience,” Ms Holmes said.
“Through this campaign we are letting young Victorians know that it’s your body, and your choice when it comes to choosing a cervical screening provider. We want to empower our community and equip them with the knowledge to make an informed decision about booking their Cervical Screening Test.”
“Staying up to date with cervical screening is a powerful way to look after your health – if you’re aged 25-74, this is the best thing that you can do to protect yourself from cervical cancer. The Cervical Screening Test can give you peace of mind for years to come.”
The mass media campaign has been funded by the Victorian Government and includes six weeks of radio, digital and social media advertising from 31 March, supplemented by engagement activities with health professionals. This initiative forms part of the Government’s ambitious Victorian Cancer Plan 2020–24, which sets out a target to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem in Victoria by 2030 and halve the proportion of Victorians diagnosed with preventable cancers by 2040.
Tailored materials for Tamil- and Punjabi-speaking Victorians have also been developed to address low screening rates within these communities.
For more information about the cervical screening campaign visit: cancervic.org.au/at-your-cervix
Less than two years ago, at the age of 29, Bendigo woman Casey McIntyre received a shocking stage four cervical cancer diagnosis.
"I actually went to hospital because I had a ruptured cyst on my ovaries," Ms McIntyre said. "While they were scanning the ovaries, they found the mass. I was in shock, I thought I was too young to get cervical cancer.”
She is using her experience to raise awareness among young Victorians of the risks of developing cervical cancer and the importance of prioritising screening when you turn 25.
“I hope that other women or people with cervixes hear my story and realise that you don’t have to be old to get cervical cancer. I hope that my story highlights the importance of early detection and helps to save lives.”
Her message comes at a time when rates of cervical screening have declined – the number of Cervical Screening Tests in Victoria were down 70% in March-September 2020, compared to March-September 2019.iii Some of this decline is expected, due to the change in the program, however it’s likely to have been impacted by the pandemic.
“It is shocking that so many people my age are missing out on the chance to find cervical cancer early and prevent themselves going through invasive treatment or even a terminal diagnosis.”
“You really need to get cervical screening on your to-do list.” Ms McIntrye said. “The test should only take a few minutes every five years and it could find cervical cancer early or prevent high-risk types of HPV developing into cervical cancer. This screening test could ultimately save your life.”
“Young people need to prioritise their health and think about their future. We are not invincible.”
i AIHW, Cancer Screening Programs Data, Cervical Screening Program Monitoring Report 2019. It is important to note these are estimated rates as the NCSP moved from two‐yearly Pap tests to five-yearly Cervical Screening Tests in December 2017. Until data is available for five years (i.e. 2018 to 2022), participation rates are estimated based on the number of years available. Participation rates may also look lower than rates previously reported due to a change in the definition which now only counts cervical screens where the primary reason is for screening rather than for any reason.
iii AIHW, Cancer Screening and COVID-19 in Australia, 2020