The National Cervical Screening Program was introduced to Australia in 1991. At this time, the test used was called the Pap test. This test looked for cervical cell changes that could develop into cervical cancer. Women and people with a cervix aged 18 to 70 were invited to do the test every two years.
In 2017, the Pap test (commonly referred to as the Pap smear test) was replaced with the Cervical Screening Test. The Cervical Screening Test is a better test that can detect the risk of developing cervical cancer a lot earlier than the Pap test did. The Cervical Screening Test looks for the presence of HPV (human papillomavirus), the virus that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.
Women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 are invited to do the Cervical Screening Test every 5 years.
Why was the Pap test replaced with the Cervical Screening Test?
The Pap test was replaced by the Cervical Screening Test to improve the early detection of cervical cancer and save even more lives.
The Cervical Screening Test looks for the presence of HPV, the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer, and can identify people at risk of developing cervical cancer a lot earlier than the Pap test could. The Pap test looked for the presence of cervical cell changes that could develop into cervical cancer but could not detect HPV.
It takes on average about 10 to 15 years for a persistent HPV infection to cause cell changes in the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. That is why you only need a Cervical Screening Test every five years, compared to previously needing a Pap test every two years.
It is expected that by changing from the Pap test to the Cervical Screening Test, the National Cervical Screening Program will be able to reduce the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer by a further 20%.
Why does cervical screening start at 25 now?
Research shows us that having a five-yearly Cervical Screening Test from the age of 25 is safer and more effective than having a two-yearly Pap test from the age of 18.
Cervical cancer is extremely rare in women aged under 25 – there are around 10 to 15 cases of cervical cancer in people under 25 in Australia each year from a total number of around 900 cases.
Since Australia introduced a National HPV vaccination program in 2007, the number of cervical cell abnormalities among people with a cervix aged younger than 25 has been dropping, which will result in fewer cases of cervical cancer in this age group.
The combined approach of a National HPV vaccination program and more effective National Cervical Screening Program means Australia is on track to be one of the first countries in the world to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem.
Learn about the HPV vaccine
How is the Cervical Screening Test done?
You have two options for your next Cervical Screening Test. You can self-collect your test using a small swab or you can have a healthcare provider do the test for you using a speculum and a small brush. Both options are equally effective at detecting HPV.
Read about your testing options