Nine weeks ago, Bendigo resident Casey MacIntyre was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer.
"I went to the hospital thinking I had gastro and I had a few other issues," she said. "They finally did a CAT scan after a few days and they found a mass. It was quite scary."
The 29-year-old had received the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination during high school and was checked for the cancer with a pap smear four years ago.
Bendigo Health have diagnosed her cancer as incurable. Due to the position of the cancer, she can't have the mass surgically removed or have radiation.
Ms MacIntyre has started receiving rounds of chemotherapy. She is halfway through six rounds of the treatment but is scheduled to have another 12 doses after this first stage is complete.
"It's a very strong treatment," she said. "I've lost my hair so it's quite scary but it is manageable. Whoever has gone through cancer is incredible because it is a horrible thing to go through. You just have to keep going."
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed there were 933 cervical cancer cases in Australia in 2018. There were also 252 women who died from the cancer last year.
But early detection can save lives. Bendigo Health is sharing that message through a free community cervical screening test day on Saturday May 11 from 9am - 4pm.
"Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers that can affect women of reproductive age," Bendigo Health Clinical Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Dr Nicola Yuen said. "It's also one of the most preventable cancers we see."
Cervical cancer was the 14th most commonly diagnosed cancer among females in Australia in 2018.
But the Cancer Council said cervical cancer death rates in Australia have halved since the National Cervical Screening Program began in 1991.
That first program offered a free Pap smear test every two years to women between the ages of 18 and 70.
But in December 2017 a new test was introduced which focused on HPV. HPV is a common infection that can cause cervical cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer.
With the new test, women aged between 25 and 74 are only required to be checked every five years.
Women are due for their first Cervical Screening Test at the age of 25 or two years after their last Pap smear.
Dr Yuen said the new test was a "far more effective" program compared to the old system.
"We now screen women through a different technique with a view to be able to identify those who are at an increased risk," Dr Yuen said.
"We're able to pick up much more cancers than we were before in terms of identifying and treating women at high risk of going onto develop cancer."
The screening process runs alongside the HPV vaccination program, which is distributed in high schools around the country.
Gardasil 9, the vaccine that has been used in the national vaccination program since last year, protects women against nine HPV types. Those strands cause around 90 per cent of cervical cancers in women.
The new Gardasil 9 vaccine replaced Gardasil, which protected against four HPV types and was used in the vaccination program from 2007 to 2017.
But Dr Yuen said that vaccination alone was not enough to eliminate the chance of cervical cancer.
"We would encourage all women regardless of their vaccination status to be screened," Dr Yuen said.
"We would also encourage all women to present if they have abnormal gynaecological symptoms like abnormal bleeding, discharge or pain.
"We do see the odd cancer that develops between the screening times."
Casey MacIntyre's mother Lynn said her daughter's diagnosis was "absolutely horrific" for the family.
But she said it was now their mission to make sure more women were aware about the risk of cervical cancer.
"It's really important to know what you can detect with just one of those simple little tests," Mrs MacIntyre said. "Just go in and get it done. For the sake of that five minutes of being uncomfortable, it saves lives."
While Casey MacIntyre faces a tough road ahead, she said her message was simple.
"If I could help one person, that would be the best," she said. "It would be great to just help one person find something early."
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