City-first colposcopy clinic eases anxiety
The city's first dedicated colposcopy clinic has opened at Gold Coast Private Hospital, giving women access to an outpatient service offering cervical examinations, biopsies and Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LETZ) in minutes, under local anaesthetic.
Headed by gynaecologist, Graeme Walker and supported by his wife Hilary - who is currently Australia's only diagnostic and therapeutic nurse colposcopist - the Gold Coast Private Colposcopy Clinic is designed to ease the anxiety around an abnormal Pap smear and the cost associated with follow up testing and treatment.
Dr Walker said the colposcopy clinic would allow the majority of patients 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.
"In addition to providing women with a caring environment, the clinic will test and treat the expected increase in women being referred to colposcopy when the new HPV testing takes effect in December this year.
"It is predicted the new form of testing will see a 20 per cent increase in referrals and we want to ensure these women can access colposcopy quickly to ease their mind and, when necessary, allow them to receive treatment straight away.
"By providing a low-cost private alternative, more women will also be able to choose treatment outside of the public system, reducing waiting times, and access the procedure without the need for a hospital admission."
Dr Walker said the clinic would service a range of referrals, including clinically suspicious cervix, cervicitis and cancer, in a 'safe haven' of quality care.
"Studies have shown colposcopy is one of the most stressful medical procedures for patients, resulting in anxiety levels similar to that of someone undergoing major surgery or a pregnant woman being told there is an abnormal protein test," he said.
"Our focus is on relieving this 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 almost 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. Removing the need for hospital admission further reduces the anxiety."
Dr Walker said making colposcopy an easy to access and cost effective procedure was vital, with more than 320 women dying in Australia from cervical cancer each year, despite treatment - when abnormalities are detected early - being extremely effective.
"Removing the anxiety associated with the procedure is important in ensuring women undertake the necessary testing and treatment for early detection of cervical cancer," he said.
Dr Walker said doctors also needed to always be mindful of the possibility of cervical cancer as a differential diagnosis, irrespective of the age of the patient.
"We have had an 18-year-old with cervical cancer that sat for some time, as everyone thought 'it cannot be that'," he said.
"If there is unexplained bleeding, cervical cancer should always be considered as a differential until proven otherwise."
Dr Walker said, under the changes to testing to come into effect in December, more older women were likely to be referred to colposcopy.
"HPV is a virus that does not automatically lead to an abnormality and there is going to be a reasonable sized cohort of women who return a positive result to high-risk HPV who have never returned a positive cytology and are suddenly told they require a colposcopy," he said.
"As a result, we are going to have some very anxious women sitting in our surgeries thinking 'I've never had an abnormal Pap Smear, why is this happening now and what is HPV'."
Gold Coast Private Colposcopy Clinic is located at Suite 15, Gold Coast Private Hospital.
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.