Hunter women can be part of "scientific history" by joining the largest clinical trial ever conducted in Australia.
In total, the Compass Trial is aiming to recruit more than 82,000 women. Almost 75,000 women have signed up. Another 7500 in the 25 to 38 age bracket are needed.
Shannon Forsyth, a research nurse at Family Planning NSW's Newcastle clinic, said the trial aimed to find "the most effective ways to do screening for cervical cancer".
"Down the line, with better screening and vaccinations, the aim is to eliminate cervical cancer. That's the main goal," Ms Forsyth said.
Down the line ... the aim is to eliminate cervical cancer.Research nurse Shannon Forsyth
The trial is searching for the best way to screen for HPV [human papillomavirus], particularly in women who have had the HPV vaccination.
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Associate Professor Marion Saville said almost all cervical cancers were caused by "persistent infection with certain types of HPV".
"HPV testing is a better way to find lesions that otherwise may become cancers," she said.
"But we are also using the trial to identify the best way to refine the testing, which in turn will help avoid sending too many healthy women for further tests."
Family Planning NSW's medical director Deborah Bateson urged eligible women to "become a part of scientific history".
"The Compass Trial will completely change the direction of how we screen and prevent cervical cancer globally," Dr Bateson said.
The trial is comparing HPV testing to the pap smear. Phase one of the trial involved more than 5000 women. It detected high-grade cervical abnormalities of pre-cancerous lesions in 1 per cent of women who were HPV-screened. Pap tests detected such abnormalities in only 0.1 per cent of women.
These initial findings supported the recent change in Australia from two-yearly pap smears for women aged between 18 and 69 to a five-yearly HPV screening test for 25 to 74-year-olds.
The screening test feels the same as a pap smear. The HPV test is more effective than the pap test because it detects the virus itself. The pap test looked for cell changes in the cervix.
The next phase of the trial seeks to confirm that the HPV test is a superior screening method. It will also assess the effectiveness of methods to decide which women need further investigation, if they record a positive test.
The HPV test has been estimated to reduce cervical cancer cases and mortality by at least 20 per cent.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Routine cervical screening is the best protection against the disease.
About 800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Australia each year. In 2016, this led to 259 deaths. The disease is more common in women over 40, but it can occur at any age.
To join the trial in Newcastle, visit compasstrial.org.au or phone 1800 611 635.
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