Choice in cervical screening option means fewer Victorians will be left behind

Monday 7 November, 2022

This National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week (November 7-13), Cancer Council Victoria, together with the Australian Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer, is calling on the Victorian community to spread the word about the self-collection option for cervical screening, with new research revealing the test could be the answer to getting more women and people with a cervix to participate in cervical screening.

A Cervical Screening Test (previously known as the Pap Test) is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. The test needs to be done every five years by all women and people with a cervix aged 25-74 who are eligible for cervical screening. Yet, screening data from 2018-2021 estimated only 62 per cent of Victorian women and people with a cervix participated in the National Cervical Screening Program during this period.

The self-collection option became universally available in Australia on 1 July 2022 for people eligible for cervical screening and allows people to collect their own vaginal sample using a swab. The test is quick, easy, private and just as reliable as a sample collected by a healthcare professional from the cervix using a speculum.

New Cancer Council Victoria research1, which surveyed over 700 Victorian women and people with a cervix, found almost three quarters of respondents who had never screened or were not up to date with screening, stated they were likely to choose the self-collection option for their next Cervical Screening Test.

Respondents who indicated they would prefer to self-collect would do so because it is private, easy to do and removed personal barriers to getting a Cervical Screening Test. However, while self-collection may be the key to getting more people to do the test, only 9.7 per cent of respondents had ever previously heard of it.

Kate Broun, Head of Screening, Early Detection and Immunisation at Cancer Council Victoria said that while many health advocates knew about self-collection, more needed to be done to ensure the entire Victorian community knew about this option.

“Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and early diagnosis through screening greatly improves the chances of treatment being successful, but many people put off their Cervical Screening Test or avoid it altogether because they find it uncomfortable, embarrassing or face other barriers to doing the test,” Ms Broun said.

“Self-collection can help us to break down those barriers and allow all women and people with a cervix to choose the right option for them.”

Ms Broun said there were some groups in Victoria who faced additional barriers to screening. These include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those living regionally, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, LGBTIQ+ people and people living with a disability.

“No matter where you live, or what community you are a part of, everyone deserves to be protected from cervical cancer. It’s so important that we spread the word about self-collection to ensure everyone knows their options for cervical screening,” Ms Broun said.

Shae Graham, Australian Wheelchair Rugby Player said she was excited to see more options for cervical screening available for all Victorians.

“We all want to be healthy and performing at our best, and participating in cervical screening is such an important way that we can put our health first,” Ms Graham said.

“For many people, doing a Cervical Screening Test can be quite confronting, so it’s great that we now have the self-collection option to help make this important test more comfortable.

“Giving people the option to do the test themselves in private means that we’re allowing people to choose what’s best for them and helping to remove some of those barriers to make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind.”

Professor Marion Saville AM, Executive Director of the Australian Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer said that self-collection would help further reduce cervical cancer rates in Victoria.

“Australia, and in particular, Victoria has been a world leader in cervical cancer prevention and screening, but there are people that we have never been able to reach with the traditional speculum test,” Prof Saville said.

“Our laboratory, VCS Pathology, was the first in Australia to be accredited to conduct Cervical Screening Tests on self-collected samples. We continue to lead Australia in the technical development needed to make these high-quality tests available.

It's estimated that in 2022, over 900 Australian women and people with a cervix will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 200 people will die from it. Unlike many other cancers, we have the tools available to prevent cervical cancer and find it early, and everyone should have access to these tools to ensure no more lives are lost.”

“By offering this new cervical screening self-collection test, we have the chance to increase screening rates in Victoria, increase detection of the virus that can lead to cervical cancer and ultimately save more lives.”

If you’re due for a Cervical Screening Test, speak to your doctor or nurse about self-collection or visit cancervic.org.au/selfcollection for more information, including a guide on how to do the test. You can also find a provider on Cancer Council Victoria’s Cervical Screening Provider Directory, who suits your healthcare needs, or call their experienced cancer nurses for information and support on 13 11 20.

- ENDS -

About the research

A cross-sectional survey was undertaken in January-March 2022, before the scheduled introduction of universal access to self-collection in July 2022 to examine awareness, knowledge, attitudes and preferences of Cervical Screening Tests, including self-collection, within Victorian women and people with a cervix. The research surveyed over 700 Victorian women and people with a cervix aged 25-74, who are eligible to participate in the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) on their knowledge, attitudes and preferences for cervical screening and self-collection.

 

1 Ross MS, Bastable A, Broun K, Eggins D, Temminghoff L, Lotfi-Jam K. Knowledge, attitudes and preferences for cervical screening and self-collection: Baseline findings from a Victorian population survey. [Unpublished report]. Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria: Melbourne, Australia, August 2022.