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Major step forward in self-collection for cervical screening


Paul Hayes


24/05/2021 2:54:39 PM

A new Medical Services Advisory Committee recommendation would enable all eligible Australian women to take their own screening sample.

Self-collection swab
Currently, only people who are overdue or who have never been screened have the option for a self-collected sample. (Image: National Cancer Screening Register)

A key barrier in cervical cancer screening participation may be removed following a recent recommendation from the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC).
 
MSAC last week approved self-collection for screening, potentially paving the way for greater levels of detection.
 
Under the current system, most people who get cervical screening need to have a sample taken by a doctor or nurse using a speculum. Only people who are overdue or who have never been screened have the option for a self-collected sample.
 
However, it is estimated that around 80% of cervical cancer cases are in people who are overdue or who have never been screened.
 
The Cancer Council has welcomed MSAC’s recommendation.
 
‘Self-collection is a huge step forward, as it gives women more control over the process by allowing them to take a sample themselves,’ Professor Karen Canfell, Chair of Cancer Council’s Screening and Immunisation Committee, said. ‘This will reduce some of the barriers people may experience when participating in screening.’
 
Professor Canfell believes the change could help improve participation rates and take Australia closer to eliminating cervical cancer as a public health issue.
 
‘In 2017 Australia transitioned from the old Pap test to the new cervical screening test, which detects the presence of the HPV virus. This test is not only more accurate but has also allowed for these changes to be considered,’ she said. ‘International research published since the shift to HPV testing has shown that self-collection is as accurate as a sample taken by a clinician.
 
‘Cancer Council research has also shown self-collection in Australia would be an effective approach to further reduce cervical cancer incidence by helping to reach more women who are not currently participating in screening.’
 
Under the proposed screening system, if the HPV virus is detected following self-collection, further testing using a speculum would be undertaken by a doctor or nurse. Approximately 10% of patients return a positive sample after screening, according to the Cancer Council.
 
‘If you are due for your cervical screening test now, the key thing is that you don’t delay and ensure you participate in screening,’ Professor Canfell said. ‘Australia has the potential to become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue; however, this relies on people getting screened when they are due.’
 
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