newsGP - calls for stronger public health messaging for cervical screening

newsGP – calls for stronger public health messaging for cervical screening

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Despite Australia being on the way to eliminating cervical cancer, knowledge gaps and barriers remain, particularly when it comes to self-collection.

About a third of national survey respondents do not identify cervical cancer screening as a prevention strategy.


Over the past two decades, Australia has invested heavily in public health reporting and the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) as it works towards the goal of eliminating the disease by 2035.

But while these efforts have Australia on track to meet that goal, many people remain unclear about how they can help reduce diagnoses.

According to a new survey released by the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF) ahead of this year’s national awareness week, four out of five people had no idea Australia could become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer, while only half of the 1,000 people surveyed believed they could play a role.

It also found that while the HPV vaccination is estimated to prevent up to 92% of the infections responsible for nearly 75% of cervical cancer, less than half (43%) of those surveyed did not believe the vaccine could prevent the deadly disease.

ACCF chief executive Vicky Darling says the results are worrying and highlight gaps in knowledge.

‘[They] they suggest that despite our best efforts, there may be a large gap in Australians’ understanding of the main cause of cervical cancer and how to prevent it,” she said.

“We know our world-leading cervical cancer prevention programs are working, but we cannot afford to become complacent and lose the focus or momentum we have built.

“We have the tools we need to eliminate cervical cancer readily available, but we need to continue our national prevention programs and invest in public education to make sure we all understand the role we can play in helping to detect cervical cancer at an early stage , and what is important, not one was left behind.’

It is estimated that 942 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer by the end of 2022, with 222 expected to be diagnosed this year. Most (70%) of these cases occur in people who have not been informed about their screening or who have never been screened before.

NCSP is designed to identify HPV infections early before they develop into cervical cancer, and since its introduction in 1991, the program has halved the number of new diagnoses of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer in people aged 25 and more years.

However, 32% of ACCF national survey respondents did not identify screening as a prevention strategy.

A potential “game changer” that could further increase participation rates is self-collection for cervical cancer screening, for which eligibility was expanded in July 2022.

However, reports of a “slow start” to mainstreaming prompted GP Dr. Lara Roeske, member of the National Self-Collection Cervical Screening Program Implementation Committee, to call for improved public health messaging to encourage people to see their GP. new option.

“Self-sampling is hampered by a lack of public awareness that this option is now available to anyone who needs cervical cancer screening,” Dr Roeske said. newsGP.

“There hasn’t been a big public campaign to encourage people to go to their GP and ask about self-collection and we badly need that.”

A national campaign has yet to take place, but a number of localized campaigns have recently been launched as part of National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week (November 7-13), raising hopes for increased participation.

The Australian Cervical Cancer Prevention Center (ACPCC) and Cancer Council Victoria are collaborating on the ‘Self-collection Saves Lives’ campaign to raise community and health professional awareness of self-collection.

“Self-sampling is one of the best tools we have to increase participation in cervical screening and put us on the path to eliminating cervical cancer in Australia by 2035,” ACPCC Chief Executive Professor Marion Saville said.

“HPV self-collection allows screening participants to collect their own vaginal sample for HPV testing. It is an accurate and acceptable alternative to the doctor-collected cervical screening test using speculum examination and has recently been widely available as an option for all NCSP participants.”

Meanwhile, the ‘You Can Do It’ campaign was recently launched in South Australia in consultation with the RACGP and AMA. It also targets women and people with a cervix aged 25-74 to consider self-collection for their five-yearly screening.

The campaign leader, Wellbeing SA, has also teamed up with Cancer Council SA to fund GP training on self-sampling to ensure women and people with cervical cancer are supported in choosing the best option for cervical cancer screening.

SA Health and Welfare Minister Chris Picton said self-collection gave people more choice and control over their cervix, with the new campaign aiming to ensure more regular cervical cancer testing, which “ultimately saves lives”.

“Self-collection is a fundamental change for many women [and people with a cervix] who for various reasons may be putting it off or have never had a cervical screening test before,” Minister Picton said.

The ACCF says it will continue to raise awareness of cervical cancer and “unite Australians to take action to help make cervical cancer history”.

Dr. Roeske, a longtime advocate of self-collection, says it’s consistent with best practices in preventive health care.

“Self-sampling addresses many of the barriers to traditional screening and gives people control and dignity,” she said.

“This is a real game changer in our fight against cervical cancer by increasing equal access to screening for eligible Australians.”

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