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Cervical screening

About the Cervical Screening Test

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and can be successfully treated if detected early. The Cervical Screening Test is the best way to protect against cervical cancer.

The Cervical Screening Test looks for the presence of a virus called HPV (human papillomavirus), which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.

Under the National Cervical Screening Program, women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 who have ever been sexually active are recommended to have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.

Now, you can choose how you have your next Cervical Screening Test. You can have it done by a doctor or specially trained nurse or you self-collect your test using a small swab.

What is HPV and how does it cause cervical cancer?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted infection that is spread by genital skin to skin contact and can affect people of any gender or sexuality.

HPV is very common. About eight out of ten sexually active adults will have an HPV infection at some point in their life.

HPV usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself. However, if your body is unable to clear an HPV infection, it can cause cell changes that can, if left untreated, become cervical cancer.

What cervical screening looks for

Who needs to do a Cervical Screening Test? 

Women and people with a cervix aged between 25 and 74 years, who have ever had sexual contact with a person of any gender should have a Cervical Screening Test every five years. 

You still need to have a Cervical Screening Test if you: 

  • have no symptoms
  • have had the HPV vaccination  
  • have been through menopause  
  • are pregnant
  • haven’t been sexually active for a long time 
  • have only been with one sexual partner 
  • have only had non-penetrative sex (e.g. oral sex)
  • are gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer 
  • are gender diverse or non-binary and have a cervix.

Women and people with a cervix of any age who have symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge or pain should see their health care provider immediately, regardless of when they were last screened. 

Learn about cervical cancer symptoms 

How is the Cervical Screening Test done? 

The Cervical Screening Test involves taking a sample of cells from your cervix or vagina to look for the presence of HPV. 

You have two options for how you can do your next Cervical Screening Test.  

  • Option 1: You can self-collect the sample from your vagina using a small swab. This option is called self-collection. 
  • Option 2: Your doctor or specially trained nurse can collect the sample from your cervix using a speculum and a small brush. This option is called a clinician-collected test. 

Both options are equally as accurate at detecting HPV. You can choose which option is right for you. 

Find out more about self-collection

Where to go for a Cervical Screening Test 

All Cervical Screening Tests need to be arranged through a healthcare provider. This can be a doctor or a Nurse Cervical Screening Provider. 

You can book a test at a doctor's clinic and most Community Health Centres, Women's Health Centres or at some Aboriginal Health Services. 

You can also find a provider who suits your needs on our  Cervical Screening directory.  

On the directory, you can search for providers by location, gender, language spoken, providers that are sexual assault and traditional cutting sensitive and providers that have disability access.  

Find a provider near you 

What happens after my Cervical Screening Test? 

After your Cervical Screening Test, your healthcare provider will send your sample to a laboratory to be tested for HPV. 

If your Cervical Screening Test comes back negative for HPV, then you can come back for your next Cervical Screening Test in five years. 

If your test comes back positive for HPV, your healthcare provider will let you know what further monitoring or testing you will need. 

Learn what your results mean 

What happened with the Pap test?

The Pap test, often called the Pap smear test was replaced by the Cervical Screening Test in Australia in 2017. The Cervical Screening Test is a better test, that detects cervical cancer risk earlier and save more lives.  

The Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV (human papillomavirus) which can cause cervical cell abnormalities that may lead to cervical cancer. The Pap test looked for cervical cell changes after they had developed but could not detect HPV.   

The Cervical Screening Test can identify people at risk of developing cervical cancer much earlier (about 10 to 15 years) than the Pap test could. Because of this, women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 now only need to have a test every five years, instead of two. 

Find out more about the change 

Common questions about cervical screening 

Do I need to screen if I have had the HPV vaccine?

You still need to do a Cervical Screening Test even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine. While the HPV vaccine protects against several types of higher risk HPV, it does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. 

Do I need to screen if I have no symptoms?

You still need to do a Cervical Screening Test every five years even if you have no symptoms. HPV, the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers often has no symptoms. The best way to detect HPV and any cell changes caused by HPV is through a Cervical Screening Test.

Do I need to screen if I am no longer sexually active or haven't been sexually active in a while?

You still need to do a Cervical Screening Test even if you have not been sexually active in a while. HPV, the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers, can lie dormant for many years which means you can still have an HPV infection many years after you were last sexually active. The best way to detect HPV and any cell changes caused by HPV is through a Cervical Screening Test.

Is it safe to do a Cervical Screening Test during pregnancy?

If you are pregnant and due for a Cervical Screening Test, or have never had one, it’s strongly recommended you have a test.

You can choose to have a self-collected test or a clinician collected test in pregnancy. Both options are equally as effective at detecting HPV and are safe at any stage in your pregnancy.

Screening when you are due for your test, even if you are pregnant, can help to diagnose any abnormal cervical cells early, so they can be monitored and treated sooner if needed.

If you choose to have a Cervical Screening Test after the birth of your baby, it is recommended to wait three months, however you can do the test from six weeks after the birth. If you have a Cervical Screening Test too soon after the delivery there is an increased rate of unsatisfactory test results – for instance, there may not be enough cells in the sample taken, or the cells of the cervix may still be inflamed after birth.

How do I check if I am due for a Cervical Screening Test?

Women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 need to do a Cervical Screening Test every five years. You will receive a reminder letter from the National Cervical Screening Program when you are due for your next test. Your healthcare provider may also send reminder letters.

If you are unsure whether you are due for a Cervical Screening Test, you can check with your healthcare provider or contact the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701 or visit www.ncsr.gov.au

Is the test free?

The Cervical Screening Test is free, however your clinic may charge a standard consultation fee. We recommend calling the clinic beforehand, to check if there are any consultation fees.

How long does it take for HPV to turn into cervical cancer?

On average, it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for HPV to cause cell changes that could become cervical cancer.  However, for some people it may take less time. That’s why it is so important to participate in cervical screening every 5 years up to the age of 74, even if you are no longer sexually active.

If my Cervical Screening Test is positive for HPV does that mean I have cervical cancer?

No. A positive Cervical Screening Test does not mean you have cervical cancer. A Cervical Screening Test looks for the presence of HPV, a virus which can cause cell changes in your cervix that if left untreated, over time, may become cervical cancer. There are over 200 strains of HPV but only a few high-risk types that cause cervical cancer. Finding HPV early is your best protection against cervical cancer.

More information

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