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Doctors to offer DIY pap smear kits and 5-year screening schedule

Every two years, Australian women are encouraged to front up to their GPs for that brief but uncomfortable appointment we all dread: the pap smear. But not for much longer.

The new generation of teenagers becoming women won’t be subjected to the same pap smear regimen as their aunties, mothers and grandmas, with a new cervical cancer screening self-collection program to be made available in Australia as a world first.

From 2017, Australian women will be able to access this kit so they can effectively “DIY” their own pap smears as part of a sweeping overhaul of the National Cervical Cancer Screening Program.

The new guidelines are designed to “attract women who don’t normally get pap smears” as they have “the highest rates of cervical cancer,” says program committee member, Dr. Louise Farrell. The program particularly targets indigenous women, victims of sexual abuse and those who are reluctant to get pap smears for cultural reasons.

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If you’ve ever had a pap smear and you’re wondering just how it would be possible for a person to complete their own internal examination — logistically, it seems fairly tricky — you’ll be pleased to learn that the current, slightly invasive method for collecting cervical tissue is also being overthrown.

From 2017, HPV testing will replace pap smears. An HPV test can be conducted on a tissue sample taken with a nylon swab, rather than requiring cells from the cervical wall to be analysed.

It is expected that the test would still be carried out in a health-care setting, with the patient themselves preforming the swab.

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Unfortunately, those of us who have been diligent with getting regular pap smears in the past will need to keep up with our GP visits.

It’s only women who have never had a pap smear, or who are long overdue for one, who will be able to collect the self-testing kits from their doctor from 2017.

However, all Australian women will benefit from the new recommendation of five-yearly testing, rather than two-yearly pap smears, a move that has been implemented due to improvements in detection testing.

Around 885 new cases of cervical cancer are projected to be diagnosed in Australia in 2015, according to government statistics. Up to 250 women will die from cervical cancer this year, as well.

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