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August 30, 2012

Cervical Screening Awareness Month a prompt for West Coast women

West Coast women are urged to use September - Cervical Screening Awareness Month - as a reminder to have a cervical smear test every three years.

Janet Hogan, West Coast DHB Clinical Nurse Manager Cervical Screening, says having regular cervical smears can reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer by an amazing 90 percent.

"The cell changes to the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection is very common. Changes in the cervix as a result of HPV occur very slowly and may clear spontaneously. However, sometimes these changes may progress to cancer.

"So, having regular smears every three years means it is very likely abnormal cells will be found and treated long before they ever become cancer."

Mrs Hogan says some women may now be offered an HPV test when they have their cervical smear. The test helps identify women who may need further follow up with a specialist.

"A negative test result indicates you are extremely unlikely to be at risk of developing cervical cancer in the next three to five years. This can reduce the need for repeat smears for women whose smears have shown mild changes or who have previously had treatment.

"A positive test result means a high-risk type of HPV has been found. In this case, your smear taker will discuss follow up with you, so any cell changes can be treated early."

The HPV test is usually taken at the same time as the cervical smear test using the same sample of cells so there is no need to have a second test," she says.

Mrs Hogan says it's important for women who have had the HPV vaccine to remember to have regular cervical smears.

"The HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, so women who have been immunised must still have smears every three years."

In the West Coast DHB region, more than 71 percent of all women aged 25 to 69 had a cervical smear in the last three years. This includes 53 percent of Māori women, 71 percent of Pacific women, 73 percent of Asian women and 72 percent of European/other women. The National Cervical Screening Programme is working towards a national target by 2014 of 80 percent of women having had a smear test in the past three years.

She says women who are not sure when their smear is due, or who want to become part of the National Cervical Screening Programme can ring the freephone number 0800 729 729, see www.cervicalscreening.govt.nz, or call 03-769 7799. Regular cervical smear tests are recommended from the age of 20 to 70 for women who have ever been sexually active. "I hope West Coast women book in for a smear if it's due or overdue, and join the National Cervical Screening Programme if they haven't already. And if you've had your smear, that's great, but don't forget to have another one in three years' time."

For more information

Bryan Jamieson
Community Liaison Officer
West Coast DHB
PO Box 387
Greymouth 7840
Phone (DDI): (03) 769-7665
Mobile: 027 245-9595
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