Cervical screening self-collection boosts participation

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27 June 2023

Did you know that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers – but only two-thirds (67.5 per cent) of Queensland women aged 25-74 years participate in cervical screening?

This is despite Queensland having one of the highest cervical cancer incidence rates in Australia, with around 190 people diagnosed with cervical cancer across the state every year.

The good news is the cervical screening self-collection option – launched in mid-2022 – is increasing participation in Queensland, particularly in northern and western regions.

Queensland Health spokesperson Dr Anna Hawkes said self-collection gave people the flexibility to collect their own vaginal sample, generally at a GP in a private space such as behind a curtain or in a private room.

“We know some people may feel uncomfortable getting a cervical screen by a clinician, so the self-collect option makes the process much more private and comfortable,” Dr Hawkes said.

“Recent data shows that among people aged 30 to 74 years who had never had a Cervical Screening Test before, almost one in five were choosing to self-collect their sample.

“Older women who had never screened before were most likely to choose self-collection. For women aged 60 to 69 years who had never screened before, self-collection was chosen by almost one in three women compared with one in seven women aged 30 to 34 years old who had not previously screened.

“Research shows over 70 per cent of cervical cancers occur in women who have not been screened as often as recommended or who have never participated in screening, so it’s great to see an increase in people participating in self-collection among these cohorts.”

Dr Hawkes said it was not only certain age groups that were taking up the self-collection option but also people in certain parts of the state.

“Early data shows us that people living in the most remote areas of Queensland are more than twice as likely to choose a self-collected test compared with people living in urban areas,” Dr Hawkes said.

“Self-collection has been well-received in Western and Northern Queensland, with 20 per cent of tests in these Primary Health Networks being self-collected and an impressive 48.6 per cent of Cervical Screening Tests in the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service (HHS) being self-collected.

“These numbers are significant since cervical screening participation rates are normally lowest in the state’s most remote areas and among First Nations people, but cervical cancer incidence and mortality is highest for these people.”

While a Cervical Screening Test should be done every five years for women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 years who have ever been sexually active, Queensland Health research showed that many people were not aware they should get tested.

The test detects human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause cell changes that may progress to cervical cancer if left untreated.

“Because cervical cancer can take up to 10-15 years to develop, the early detection of HPV and cell changes means it may be possible to prevent HPV infection developing into cervical cancer,” Dr Hawkes said.

“We know people may not have kept their routine screening appointments during the pandemic. Our message to women aged 25 to 74 years who have delayed is that now is the time to catch up, regardless of whether you have been vaccinated against HPV.”

If you have received an invitation or reminder about cervical screening, please call your healthcare provider to book an appointment.

If you have any questions or concerns, or are interested in self-collection for cervical screening, you should talk to your healthcare provider to help you decide what is best for you.

More information on cervical screening is available here.