Cervical Screening Test (previously called pap smear test)

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and routine cervical screening is your best protection against cervical cancer.

What is cervical screening?

Cervical Screening is a simple test that looks for the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) – a common infection that causes most cervical cancers.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, but not all infections cause cancer. The body’s immune system will naturally get rid of most HPV infections but if it doesn’t, some types of HPV can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. Persistent HPV infection can cause abnormal cells to develop on the cervix. Over a long time, these abnormal cells may develop into cervical cancer if left untreated.

The Cervical Screening Test is more effective than the previous Pap test as it detects abnormal changes earlier.

Even though cervical cancer is preventable, over 70% of Australian women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are overdue for screening or have never had a cervical screen.

Currently only about 52% of people who are eligible to participate in get tested.

To encourage more people to undertake routine screening, all people with a cervix aged 25-74 years of age can undertake a self-collection Cervical Screening Test.

Who is eligible?

If you are aged 25-74, have a cervix and have ever had sexual contact, it is recommended that you have a Cervical Screening Test every five years, even if you have had the HPV vaccination.

You will need to discuss with your GP as self-collection is not appropriate for everyone.

You can choose to collect your own sample or have your doctor collect your sample

Having your test

If you choose to have your healthcare provider collect your sample

The doctor will gently insert a speculum (a duck-bill-shaped device) into your vagina, to hold it open. They will then take a small sample from your cervix using a swab. It may feel strange but should not hurt. If it hurts, tell your doctor straight away.

Diagram showing the location of the cervix at the top of the vagina.

If you choose to collect your own sample (self-collection)

If you decide collecting your own sample is the best option for you, your doctor will give you a swab and instructions on how to collect your sample.

A self-collected sample is taken from the vagina (not the cervix). All you need to do is insert a swab a few centimetres into your vagina and rotate it for 20 to 30 seconds.

Getting your results

You will be notified when your results are back and to make an appointment if your doctor wishes to discuss them with you.

For most people, the results will be that no HPV was found. Your healthcare provider will advise you to do the Cervical Screening Test again in 5 years.

For self-collected samples where the results show a standard type of HPV was found (all types except 16/18), your healthcare provider will ask you to return. They will then collect a cervical sample for further testing.

For doctor collected samples where the results show a standard low risk type of HPV, your doctor will advise you to do the test again in one year. If your HPV has cleared up after one year, you will be advised to do the test again in 5 years. If your HPV has not cleared up after one year, you will be advised to do the test again in a further one year.

For a small group of people, the results will show a certain type of HPV (types 16/18) that is more sensitive. If that’s the case, your healthcare provider will refer you for further assessment.

If someone you love is eligible and has never been screened or hasn’t been screened for some time, encourage them to do their cervical screening.

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