In 2017 pap smears for screening and prevention of cancer of the cervix will come to an end. They’ll be replaced with HPV tests, which are considered more effective.
You may have mixed feelings about pap smears since screening every two years began for 18-70 year olds in 1991. Pap smears detect cells changes, which can be treated to stop cancer developing. This has decreased cervical cancers by 50%.
At the same time, pap smears can be unpleasant. They involve opening up the vagina with a metal instrument (speculum) and using a spatula or brush to scrape your cervix.
HPV (human papillomavirus)
HPV is a wart virus that’s spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. There are 100 types of HPV. A few of them cause cervical cancer. In particular, types 16 and 18 cause 70-80% of cervical cancers.
In 2007 a nationwide HPV vaccination program for types 16 and 18 was started for teenagers and young women to prevent cervical cancer. It has decreased HPV and cervical pre-cancer rates in vaccinated females.
The HPV test detects HPV infection, which is known to be the first step in developing cervical cancer. The research shows it can save more lives and is just as safe as a pap smear. And while HPV tests involve the same procedure as pap smears, instead of every two years, they’ll be done every five years for women aged 25-69.
What to do until 2017
* You must continue doing pap smears every two years until HPV tests start, even if you’ve been vaccinated. HPV vaccination only targets types 16 and type 18 – it doesn’t prevent all cervical cancers.
* You can let HPV vaccinated women know they must continue doing pap smears. Research has found these women are less likely than unvaccinated women to do a pap smear, possibly due to false reassurance.