in brief: new pap smear advice ‘may risk lives’
Biennial pap smears – it’s just what we do, right? Well a paper prepared by the Medical Services Advisory Committee suggests that not only should women screen for pap tests less often, but we should also delay our first test – advice that’s raised concerns among cervical cancer advocates that women’s lives could be put at risk.
At present, PapScreen Victoria recommends that all sexually active women should have a Pap Smear every two years, with the first test taking place between the ages of 18 and 20.
If current recommendations are taken on board, the frequency of pap smears will be reduced from every two years to every three years from ages 25 to 49, and every five years from ages 50 to 65, as is current practice in countries like Britain and New Zealand, among others.
Since the introduction of the current screening system in 1991, the incidence of cervical cancer among Australian women aged 20 to 69 has dropped from 17.2 new cases per 100,000 women to 9.3.
But associate professor at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at the University of NSW and an adviser to Cancer Council Australia, Karen Canfell, said international evidence had shown screening women more frequently than every three years delivered marginal benefits, and identifying and treating abnormalities in women younger than 25 carried a risk of child-bearing complications.
Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation chief executive Joe Tooma said the most important thing was a better system, not just a cheaper one.
‘What if you’re the one woman who doesn’t get screened and dies of cervical cancer at the age of 23 or 24? I’m concerned that there could be someone who slips through the cracks. For the sake of a couple of dollars we don’t want to put a price on a woman’s life in a country that really should have a world class health system’, he said.