Pap smears still vital for women vaccinated for HPV

CANCER Council has issued an urgent reminder for HPV-vaccinated women to still get pap smears, with new research revealing lower rates of cervical cancer screening among vaccinated Australian females.

Less than 30 per cent of Australian women aged 30-34 who have received the HPV vaccine are undergoing regular pap smears, according to a study published last week in the Medical Journal of Australia*.

The study is the first to reveal that women vaccinated against HPV are less likely to undergo cervical cancer screening than unvaccinated women in Australia.


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Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said all Queensland women who had been vaccinated against HPV were still required to undergo regular Pap smears.

“The differences in screening rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated women cited in this study are alarmingly low and a cause for concern,” Ms Clift said.

“Receiving the Gardasil vaccination doesn’t offer full protection against cervical cancer – all women aged 18 to 70 years who have ever been sexually active must ensure they undergo Pap smear tests every two years.

“Early detection of cervical cancer by Pap smear testing remains the best weapon to combat the morbidity and mortality associated with the disease.

“If every eligible woman had a Pap smear every two years, 90 per cent of cervical cancer could be prevented.”

About 56 per cent of Queensland women currently participate in screening, compared to a national average of about 58 per cent.

A Pap smear test is designed to detect early changes in the cells of the cervix which may later lead to cancer.

“In Queensland, as in Australia, the participation rates for cervical cancer screening are lower in remote communities, areas of low socioeconomic status and those living in Indigenous communities,” Ms Clift said.

“It’s also important to be aware of the symptoms of cervical cancer, including discomfort during sexual intercourse and irregular bleeding from the vagina.”

The study found around 37 per cent of vaccinated Australian women aged 20-24 years underwent regular pap smears, compared to about 47 per cent of unvaccinated women.

In women aged 25-29 years, only about 45 per cent of vaccinated women underwent screening, compared to nearly 59 per cent of unvaccinated women.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20 or cancerqld.org.au.

*Medical Journal of Australia, Cervical screening rates for women vaccinated against human papillomavirus, Budd et al. 2014.

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