Shepparton GP urges 25- to 34-year-olds to screen for cervical cancer

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A Shepparton GP is encouraging young women to prioritise their health by booking a cervical screening test, as Cancer Council Victoria reports a drop in testing numbers.

Less than half of eligible Victorian women or people with a cervix aged 25 to 34 are taking part in the National Cervical Screening Program, Cancer Council has revealed.

Shepparton Women’s Health Centre GP Cristina Tolentino said cervical cancer was easily treatable, as long as it was caught early.

“You don’t really get any symptoms from cervical cancer unless it’s advanced, so it’s better if you get it tested regularly,” she said.

“I had one patient who was 27 and she was only doing the pap smear because she was going for IVF.

“We detected she had cancer. She had no symptoms, nothing.

“She wouldn’t have known she had it unless she went for a check-up.”

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by persistent infection with some high-risk types of the human papillomavirus.

Doctors use cervical screening to detect this virus early, starting from the age of 25 or two years after a person becomes sexually active.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a male-female relationship,” Dr Tolentino said.

“Even females, even if they’ve never had sexual relationships with a male, can still get the HPV virus, so they would still need to be screened.”

Shepparton Women’s Health Centre GP Cristina Tolentino.

Screening is recommended every five years, or more regularly if an abnormality is detected.

Dr Tolentino said the use of a speculum during screening could be off-putting for people.

But she said there were plans to move towards a self-testing model.

“It’s just a swab people can do in the toilet or with the guidance of the doctor,” the GP said.

“If it comes up that the virus is there, then we do a speculum test.”

Dr Tolentino also urged people to receive their Gardasil vaccine, which prevents certain strains of HPV.

“We’re also encouraging young males to have it as well, because they can pass the virus on to females,” she said.

Cancer Council said cervical screening was important for all women or people with a cervix aged 25 to 74.

But the organisation is currently focused on reaching 25- to 34-year-olds.

“It is shocking that Victoria’s cervical screening participation rates for (this cohort) are the lowest nationally, with over half of eligible people currently missing out on the lifesaving test,” Cancer Council Victoria screening program manager Kate Broun said.

“We know that cervical screening rates have recently declined, some of which is likely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our message is clear — don’t delay your cervical screening test, health services are taking all the necessary precautions to keep you safe.”

For more information, visit cancer.org.au

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