25 November 2021

Melbourne: On 25 November 2021, the Australian Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer (ACPCC) and Cancer Council Victoria (CCV) launched the “Self-Collection Saves Lives” campaign which encourages healthcare practitioners to offer an alternative test for cervical screening to underscreened women and people with a cervix across Victoria.

The campaign will help achieve the Victorian Government’s target of encouraging an additional 10,000 under-screened women and people with a cervix to screen via self-collection. This goal in the Victorian Cancer Plan 2020-2024 aims to increase screening amongst priority underscreened groups.

Cervical cancer is a preventable cancer — most cases are caused by long-term infection with certain high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Screening detects HPV types associated with cervical abnormalities and cancer. Conventional screening requires a doctor or nurse to do a pelvic examination and insert a speculum, a medical tool used to help examine the cervix.

Since 2018, underscreened Australian women and people with a cervix have been eligible for “self-collection”. This means they can perform their own HPV test by inserting a small, soft swab (like the swabs used to collect a COVID test) into their vagina. But few people who are eligible know it’s available and there’s also a lack of awareness amongst health practitioners.

Professor Marion Saville AM, Executive Director of the ACPCC said, “Self-collected samples are as accurate as samples collected by a GP or nurse for the detection of pre-cancerous lesions and many adenocarcinomas[1]. Importantly, our research in Victoria has shown that self-collection is highly acceptable in a range of underscreened groups who otherwise choose not to screen[2].”

“Despite self-collection being available since 2018, uptake in Victoria remains low. Our data shows around 3,200 self-collection tests have been performed in our lab (VCS Pathology) to date and just over half of eligible Victorians are up to date with screening. This means thousands are missing out on the chance to detect pre-cancerous cervical lesions early.”

Kate Broun, Head of Screening, Early Detection and Immunisation at Cancer Council Victoria added: “We know that many women and people with a cervix face a range of barriers to accessing screening. Self-collection provides an opportunity to address these barriers. For those who have never screened, research shows that taking part in self-collection could reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer by around 40 per cent[3].”

Encouragingly, the federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt MP recently announced that from mid next year, health practitioners will be able to offer all screening participants the option of self-collection for cervical screening. The change was recommended by the Medicare Services Advisory Committee and will come into effect on 1 July 2022. Currently, self-collection is limited to those aged 30 years or over who have never been screened, or who are two or more years overdue.

Melbourne-based GP Dr Sally Cockburn, also known as Dr Feelgood, said: “Self-collection is a great option to test for HPV, particularly for certain cultural groups who can’t be examined by a male doctor. Many patients are already eligible and now is a good time to offer it to them.”

Nurse Cervical Screening Provider at the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-Operative, Sandy Anderson hopes the campaign will result in more eligible women and people with a cervix taking up the offer of self-collection.

“Our service has been offering self-collection to all patients since it was approved in the renewed cervical screening program and so far, we’ve seen a 98 per cent take up rate amongst our patients. For those who may be reluctant to participate in a doctor or nurse taken Cervical Screening Test, this option provides a safe, reliable and comfortable screening alternative that importantly is just as effective at detecting HPV and preventing cervical cancer.”

The Self-Collection Saves Lives campaign is funded by the Victorian Department of Health.

[1] Arbyn et al 2018, Saville et al 2020

[2] Saville et al 2018

[3] Smith et al 2016

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 Media contact:  Lena Elkman, Senior Project Officer lelkman@vcs.org.au

 About ACPCC

ACPCC works with Australian and international partners to achieve the World Health Organization’s goal of eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem. Our team is committed to supporting the effective delivery of HPV vaccination and cervical screening programs to ensure a cervical cancer free future for girls and women everywhere. ACPCC is a not-for-profit organisation with over 55 years of expertise in cancer prevention and population health through laboratory and medical education services, establishing and operating cancer screening and vaccination registries, and conducting world-leading research and data analysis. www.acpcc.org.au

About Cancer Council Victoria

Cancer Council Victoria is a non-profit cancer organisation dedicated to world-leading cancer research, prevention, and support since our establishment in 1936. Our mission is to prevent cancer, empower patients and save lives. Cancer never rests, and for that reason, neither do we. That’s why we’re here for everyone affected by cancer every minute, every hour, every day. Find out more at www.cancervic.org.au


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