So yesterday, everyone with a vagina was gobsmacked with the news that the Pap smear as we know it is being replaced by the ~new & improved~ cervical screening test.
Like you, we had a TONNE of questions that just weren't covered in the official announcement of the change.
We chatted to Dr Vanessa King, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Melbourne City Obstetrics & Gynaecology, and Dr Dasha Fielder of Sapphire Family Medical Practice Bondi Junction, to get the low-down on what's really going to happen with our most important check-up.
What does the cervical cancer screening involve?
"The new cervical cancer screening program will involve doing a test every five years that firstly looks for HPV - the cause of changes in the cells of the cervix which can turn into cancer over many years," Dr King tells us.
"If the HPV test is positive, doctors will then be able to look at the cells on the same sample to see if there are any changes."
"Depending on the type of HPV detected, and if there are any cell changes, a woman may then be recommended to see a gynecologist for a colposcopy [a more thorough examination of the cervix] or advised to repeat the test in one year."
"If the HPV is negative, their next screening test will be in five years' time."
How do the tests differ?
As Dr Fielder explains, as far as the patient’s point of view, the tests are exactly the same.
"You still have the Pap smear in the same way as you normally do," she says. "The only difference is how we process that test."
"Currently, what we do is we collect the sample from the Pap smear and we put it on a slide, and if a patient is able to pay for private tests, the GP would be doing a test called the ThinPrep, which is a liquid-based sitology test."
"Often, when women have Pap smears, their doctor will ask them if they are willing to pay for an extra-accuracy test - some of them will be able to and some wouldn’t be (the cost is about $55, and currently there is no rebate for that)."
"The only difference is how we process that test, so instead of simply looking at the cells, we will be looking for the HPV virus."
Five years seems like a long time in between check-ups...
"The difference between two and five years is simply because we are vaccinating our children at schools, so the risk drops," Dr Fielder says.
"Second of all, we’re offering a more superior test. If you come back negative for that, your chance of developing an abnormal Pap smear in less than five years is very low."
If you’re under 25 from May 2017, can you be examined?
Dr Fielder says that the screening is no longer offered to women under 25 routinely; it can be offered, but we have to have a reason.
"A woman who has had a very early sexual activity or who has been sexually active from a young age, or in circumstances when a woman has experienced sexual abuse [may be eligible], but I think the test can be offered to any woman who is worried, but it would be an issue of Medicare funding."
Is there a price difference?
"From what I understand," Dr Fielder explains, "the government will be funding the test."
"As far as I know, there shouldn’t be any out-of-pocket expense for the patient."