Dr Erin Horsley, GP/GP Anaesthetist at One for Women
We’re approaching two years since changing to the new cervical cancer screening test in Australia. Known as the Cervical Screening Test (CST) this new test is more effective than Pap Smears at preventing cervical cancers, expected to protect up to 30% more women. 
The CST is done in the same way as the Pap Smear. A visit to your GP, a short and sometimes only mildly uncomfortable vaginal examination with a swab collected from your cervix. Followed by rewarding yourself with a pat on the back, a new magazine or a bunch of flowers,knowing that you have just done something positive for your own health and selfcare.
The sample is sent to the lab and the results take two to three weeks to be returned to your GP for review.
The old Pap Smear test detected pre-cancerous changes to the cells on the cervix. The new CST detects the presence of the virus that causes the changes to the cells on the cervix meaning abnormalities are detected much earlier in the disease process. Cancers are therefore prevented by early detection of the virus, and then treatment to remove the virus from the cervix.
The viruses tested for are strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). I like to explain to my patients that HPV is the “common cold” of sexual activity. It is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact. Most people will have had an HPV infection at some point in their lives, which usually clears by itself within 2 years. Though in some cases it does not clear, and over five to ten years can develop into cervical cancer. Be aware that the HPV vaccine protects against most, but not all strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer. So even if you’ve had the vaccine you still need to have your CST.
Studies have shown screening for those aged 18-25 is not effective in preventing cervical cancer, as it is very rare in this age group. This is increasingly relevant because those coming through this age group are usually immunised against HPV.
If your result returns abnormal, your GP will discuss the management options with you. Some strains of HPV need more urgent management and referral to a gynaecologist. Other strains only require repeat testing in one year.
 National Cervical Screening Program cited at http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/cervical-screening-1on 27/8/19