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Experts recommend pap smear overhaul

A top-level committee of medical experts has told the Government it should subsidise the use of a much-improved method of screening for cervical cancer.

The powerful Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) has recommended that the cell enrichment liquid-based cytology (CE LBC) technique be adopted for routine screening for cervical cancer, and that the procedure be added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, meaning doctors will receive a rebate for carrying out the test.

Like a conventional pap smear, CE LBC involves using a brush or spatula to collect cells from the cervix. But in the new technique, the head of the brush or spatula is either rinsed into, or broken off into, a vial of preservative fluid, creating a cell suspension which is then sent to a laboratory.

In this direct-to-vial collection method, instead of smearing the cells directly onto a glass slide, cells collected from the cervical scraping are transferred directly to the CE LBC preservative fluid.

When at the laboratory, the CE LBC cell sample is treated to remove obscuring factors such as blood, mucus and inflammation, so that a thin layer of cervical cells can be placed on a slide for microscopic examination.

MSAC said this technique had a number of advantages over the conventional pap smear method of diagnosis because it reduced the number of blood cells, inflammatory cells and non-diagnostic cellular debris in the sample, improving the quality, quantity and viability of the cells for examination in the laboratory.

The Committee recommended the Government publicly fund CE LBC through the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

Kirsty Waterford