Cervical screening tests have become a painful necessity for many women once every 5 years after the age of 25 until the age of 74.
However, many Australian women remain completely unaware that in July last year they were given another option, the HPV swab self-test.
Dr Tamara Hunter is a fertility specialist and gynaecologist based in Perth specialising in all women’s health issues, and she explains that “human papilloma virus is at the basis of over 90% of cervical cancers.”
Dr Hunter said recent studies prove that if HPV can be found on the cervix it can be equally detected in vaginal secretions. However, if HPV is detected within the swab, women must immediately attend a screening performed by a physician.
“The idea is not for the standard woman to change to this,” Doctor Hunter explains, “it's to capture a whole heap more women that wouldn't have gone for screening.”
For 25 year old Renee Britton, the HPV swab self-test will become her primary option for the years to come.
“It's still better knowing that I'll be testing myself first, regardless of having to do both in the end if that becomes the case, ” she said.
Renee endured immense pain during her first cervical screening at 18, only later to find out she had a condition known as vaginismus. “As as soon as it went in every muscle in my vagina tightened and it just became an impossible process,” she explained.
Vaginismus is a condition affecting 1 in 10 women across Australia, and involves the involuntarily tightening of muscles surrounding the cervix which lead to pain with penetration, child birth and cervical screening tests.
The Department of Health and Aged Care revealed that 80% of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year are those who did not keep up to date or chose to avoid their necessary cervical screening test.
The HPV swab self-test relieves some of the barriers many women experience when attending a regular pap smear, such as those who are victims of sexual assault, those with vaginismus, or those with language or educational barriers around the importance of cervical cancer.
Women interested in utilising the HPV swab self-test, who struggle to keep up to date with their cervical screening test, can access more information through a standard general practitioners’ appointment.