All women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 who've ever had a sexual partner should have a Cervical Screening Test every five years to protect themselves against cervical cancer.
However, in Victoria, some population groups are disproportionally affected by cervical cancer or face additional barriers to screening. These groups include Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander populations, those living regionally or remote, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, those experiencing greater socioeconomic disadvantage, LGBTIQ+ populations and people living with a disability.
Cancer Council Victoria along with community organisations have collaborated to create the following resources to support your work in reducing some of the common barriers to participating in cervical screening. Learn more about common barriers to cervical screening and find relevant resources in the sections below.
We must ensure that while we work towards eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem in Victoria, equity remains our focus.
What you’ll find on this page:
Barriers to cervical screening
People face different barriers to cervical screening. Barriers differ depending on cultural background, age, gender, sexuality and previous screening experiences. Cancer Council Victoria have a selection of resources to help overcome these barriers and support people to take part in regular cervical screening.
Universal access to self-collected Cervical Screening Tests can help overcome many of the barriers experienced by people, particularly in under-screened or never-screened populations. Self-collection is easy and reliable and gives people more control over the process.
Learn more about self-collection and access our resources.
People living with a disability
Some people with disabilities may face barriers which make cervical screening harder to do.
These barriers may include:
- clinic accessibility
- physical limitations
- competing health needs
- informed consent.
You can learn more about these barriers and enablers and access free resources on the Cancer Screening Hub.
The Cervical Screening Directory allows patients to search for cervical screening providers who have disability access such as a hoist, ramp, adjustable bed, etc.
Regular cervical screening is recommended for all LGBTIQ+ people with a cervix aged between 25 and 74 who have ever had a sexual partner.
However, people who identify as LGBTIQ+ may experience barriers to cervical screening because of:
- misconception by patients and healthcare providers that lesbian, bisexual and same-sex attracted women, and transgender men who have a cervix, are not at risk of HPV and cervical cancer (i.e. belief that cervical screening is not necessary)
- discrimination and social stigma
- fear of negative attitudes from healthcare providers
- high levels of psychological distress, experiences of trauma and abuse
- healthcare providers’ lack of understanding about sexual and gender diversity
- difficulty finding a suitable healthcare provider (i.e. accepting, empathetic, non-judgemental)
- previous negative experiences with healthcare providers/healthcare services
- reluctance to disclose sexual orientation/identity
- potential distress for transgender patients caused by the conflict between their sex assigned at birth (i.e. female) and their gender identify (i.e. male)
- transgender men with a cervix may find speculum examinations painful.
Resources for working with LGBTIQ+ communities.
Women and people with a cervix who have experienced sexual assault
Some women and people with a cervix who have a history of sexual assault may be reminded of the experience by gynaecological procedures such as the Cervical Screening Test and may avoid regular cervical screening.
The Cervical Screening Directory allows patients to search for a sexual assault-sensitive provider.
Self-collection may help reduce some of the barriers that women and people with a cervix who have experienced sexual assault face about participating in cervical screening. For more information to assist health care providers to support people who have experienced sexual assault please use:
Women who have experienced Female Genital Cutting (FGC)
The experience of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) can sometimes prevent people from getting a Cervical Screening Test.
Female genital cutting (FGC) & cervical screening: A guide for practitioners provides helpful information for those impacted by FGC.
Self-collection may help reduce some of the barriers that women who have experienced FGC face about participating in cervical screening.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities
Women and people with a cervix from the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community may face additional barriers to cervical screening, such as:
- distrust of healthcare providers
- lack of culturally safe and sensitive healthcare services.
Cancer Council Victoria has useful information, resources and tools for increasing cervical screening participation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait populations on the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities page.
Speak to your Aboriginal Health Worker for more information on culturally safe services.
Culturally and linguistically diverse communities
Common barriers that culturally and linguistically diverse communities experience towards cancer screening are:
- lack of knowledge of the availability, purpose, importance, and benefits of cancer screening
- belief that screening is unnecessary if they experience no symptoms of ill health
- negative cultural perceptions about cancer – for example fatalistic attitudes (i.e. cancer is the will of God, cancer is incurable, cancer is predetermined).
- fear, shame and stigma associated with cancer
- fear and embarrassment around the test
- language, communication and literacy difficulties
- availability of female healthcare providers or healthcare providers from similar communities or that speak their language
- other competing priorities such as employment, housing and family (particularly, newly arrived migrants).
Cancer Council Victoria has developed many in-language resources to support these communities participate in regular cervical screening.
For additional information for health professionals related to cervical screening, including educational modules and resources, see the Cervical Screening Provider webpage.