The National Cervical Screening Program advises that from 1st December 2017 women aged 25-74 years, who have ever been sexually active should have a 5 yearly Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) test. The first HPV test should be taken 2 years after the last Pap test.
99% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The HPV test is more accurate than the Pap smear which only identifies changes in the cervical cells. It takes 10-15 years from HPV infection and cervical cell change to develop into cervical cancer. Infection with HPV is common and occurs in up to 80% of women. Usually the body’s immune system comes into play and cell changes revert to normal over 1-2 year.
The HPV test is taken in the same way as a Pap smear by collecting a cell sample from the cervix. The test identifies viral DNA and there are 4 main types of HPV, called high risk types, that cause cervical cancer.
Women over 30 years old who have never had a test or who are more than 2 years overdue with their test, have the option of collecting their own sample. This is better than not having a test at all.
Women who have had HPV vaccination should still have 5 yearly HPV tests as the vaccination does not cover all types of HPV causing cervical cancer.
The National Cervical Screening Register invites women to participate in screening and reminds them if they are overdue for screening.
Any woman having abnormal bleeding , pain or other symptom should not wait until her HPV test is due but seek immediate medical attention.