Clinic sees increase in referrals following introduction of cervical cancer testing
Dr Graeme Walker
There has been a significant increase in referrals for colposcopy procedures following the new cervical cancer screening program that introduced human papillomavirus (HPV) testing in December 2018.
Head of The Cervical Center, gynaecologist Graeme Walker said the clinic had been met with an influx of patients requiring a colposcopy following a positive HPV test.
While The Cervical Centre has been able to easily cope with patient demand, Dr Walker said the public system was under immense pressure.
“Some public hospitals have a 12-week waiting list for the most abnormal pap smears, whereas we can see most patients within two weeks and urgent patients almost immediately,” he said.
Dr Walker said when the new screening program was introduced, there were concerns the HPV test would prompt a significant increase of referrals, given its high sensitivity.
"Just over 12 months on that has certainly been the case," he said.
“HPV is a virus that does not automatically lead to abnormality, so these tests can create a huge amount of unnecessary anxiety.
“The new pap smear screening reports either a HPV negative or positive result.
"It doesn't take into consideration the cytology, meaning the patient is told they’re at a higher risk of significant abnormality, even if that is not necessarily the case.
“This results in a lot of patients wrongly believing they have cervical cancer and they attend my rooms in a state of heighted anxiety and distress."
Dr Walker said alleviating patient stress and giving women faster access to quality care was why The Cervical Centre was created.
He said the clinic would continue to remove the anxiety associated with the procedure in a bid to ensure women were undertaking the necessary testing and treatment for early detection of cervical cancer.
"Of the women who have cervical cancer, 85 per cent haven't been screened for the past five years so the message is simple - screening saves lives," said Dr Walker.
"We want to make sure every women feels comfortable enough to have a pap smear and come for colposcopy, if necessary, so that we can find any abnormalities early and give them the best chance of survival.
"At The Cervical Centre, focus on relieving anxiety by creating a calm and safe environment, quick and efficient testing and treatment, and strong lines of communication so women are well educated on what their individual circumstances are and the next steps they need to take.
"I have been performing colposcopies for two decades and in my experience, while the thought of the procedure is quite stressful, if done correctly, women barely feel the anaesthetic or the following treatment.
"Through The Cervical Centre we can treat almost all patients in the rooms so removing the need for hospital admission further reduces the anxiety."
Dr Walker and Gold Coast Private Hospital established the clinic in 2018 to offer local women a cost-effective private option for colposcopy - a procedure undertaken to detect cancer after a woman returns an abnormal pap smear.
Supported by his wife Hilary - a specialist nurse colposcopist - The Cervical Centre is the Gold Coast's first and only dedicated colposcopy clinic, giving women access to an outpatient service offering cervical examinations, biopsies and Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LETZ) in minutes, under local anaesthetic.
Dr Walker said at The Cervical Centre the majority of patients were able to avoid general anaesthetic, be seen within days of referral and experience lower out-of-pocket expenses.
"We set this clinic up in consultation and partnership with Gold Coast Private Hospital with the intention of making it accessible to everyone, regardless of whether they have private health insurance or not," he said.
"Our function is to ensure women can access colposcopy quickly to ease their mind and, when necessary, allow them to receive treatment straight away.
"The Cervical Centre provides a low-cost private alternative so women can choose to have their care outside the public system, avoiding long waiting periods and the need for hospital admission."
Women who do not have private health cover will be charged a one-off fee of $350, which includes referral, colposcopy, biopsy and, when necessary, recall and LETZ; while women with private health insurance are eligible to be fully-covered for the procedure, depending on their level of cover.
For information contact:
Dr Graeme Walker
Gold Coast Private Hospital
Suite 15, Ground Floor
14 Hill Street, Southport Qld
P: (07) 5530 0491