About cervical screening

Almost 80% of cervical cancers occur in women who have never been screened or are not up-to-date with their cervical screening. 

Learn more about cervical screening and why it is important to your health. 

About cervical screening

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening prevents cervical cancer by finding the infection that causes it.

The Cervical Screening Test (the Pap test replacement*) is a quick and simple procedure that looks for an infection called human papillomavirus (HPV).

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection that does not clear up. This persistent HPV infection can cause cells in the cervix to change, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer, usually over a period of 10-15 years.

Why is cervical screening important?

Cervical cancer can be prevented through cervical screening.

By detecting HPV infection - which usually causes no symptoms - screening identifies women at risk of eventually developing cervical cancer, so they can be monitored and treated accordingly.

In the very small number of cases where cervical cancer is detected, early diagnosis through screening greatly improves the chances of treatment being successful.

Cervical screening has changed

From 1 December 2017, the Pap test was replaced by the Cervical Screening Test as the method of screening women to prevent cervical cancer in Australia.

The changes to cervical screening are based on significant improvements in our understanding of how cervical cancer develops and are expected to protect up to 30% more women[1].

What does the Cervical Screening Test involve?

The experience of having a Cervical Screening Test is the same as that of a Pap Test.

When you arrive for your Cervical Screening Test, the nurse or doctor will take you to a private room, where they will talk to you about the test and explain what it will involve. They might also use this time to talk to you about your general health. When you’re ready for the test, they’ll ask you to remove your clothing from the waist down and lie on the bed (you can use a sheet to cover yourself).

The nurse or doctor will ask you to bend your knees and will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. This is so they can get a clear view of your cervix and collect a sample of cells. The test does not take long and is completely safe. You may feel some discomfort, but it should not hurt. If you feel any pain, tell your nurse or doctor.

While it might seem uncomfortable or awkward to have your Cervical Screening Test, it’s important to remember that doctors and nurses perform these tests all the time as part of their job.

Who is eligible for cervical screening?

If you’re aged between 25 and 74 and have ever been sexually active, you need to have a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years.

Your first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after your last Pap test.

This includes women who have had the HPV vaccine, as this vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV.

Cervical screening is for:

  • Both HPV-vaccinated and unvaccinated women
  • Women who haven’t been sexually active for a long time
  • Women who have only had sex with one partner
  • Women who have only had sex with women
  • All people with an intact cervix who have ever been sexually active

Women who have had a hysterectomy should check with their doctor if they need to have cervical screening.  Cervical screening is safe for pregnant women, so if you are pregnant, you can still have your Cervical Screening Test when it’s due. Talk to your doctor about the best time to have your Cervical Screening Test.

When am I due for my Cervical Screening Test?

If you have been having Pap tests and your results were normal, you will be due for your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test.

If your last Pap test was more than two years ago, or if you’ve never been screened, book your Cervical Screening Test now.

Did you know?

  • Since the National Cervical Screening Program started in 1991, both the number of cervical cancers (incidence) and deaths from cervical cancer (mortality) have fallen by half.
  • Most women who develop cervical cancer did not attend regular cervical screening.
  • It takes around 10–to15 years for cervical cancer to develop from HPV infection – so 5-yearly screening can prevent cancers developing.
  • Australia has one of the lowest rates of cervical cancer in the world, mainly due to the success of the National Cervical Screening Program.

[1] Department of Health, 2020. National Cervical Screening Program. Available at: http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/cervical-screening-1