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Information for women under 25

It is safe to start cervical screening at age 25.

Under the renewed Program, it is recommended that women start screening at age 25. This is a change to the old Program, where women were advised to start having Pap tests when they were about 18-20.

When should I screen?

  • If you are aged under 25 and have never screened, have your first Cervical Screening Test around the time of your 25th birthday.
  • If you are aged under 23 and your last Pap test had a normal result, it is safe to wait until 25 to have your first Cervical Screening Test.
  • If you had a Pap test with a normal result at the age of 23 or 24, have your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test.
  • If you are any age – including under 25 – and you’ve had an abnormal Pap test, continue following your doctor’s advice about what tests to have. 

The changes to cervical screening, including the change to the starting age, are based on extensive research and monitoring of cervical cancer and cervical screening since the National Cervical Screening Program began in 1991.  

Read about the changes to cervical screening.

The starting age changed to 25 because the evidence shows that:

  • Cervical cancer is rare in women younger than 25.
  • Most young women are protected against the main cancer-causing types of HPV through the HPV vaccine. If they haven’t had the vaccine themselves, ‘herd immunity’ provides some level of protection.
  • When young people do have a HPV infection, it is usually transient – meaning their immune system will clear it up and the infection won’t cause harm.
  • After more than 25 years of screening women under 25, the data shows there is little benefit to screening young women, and it can actually cause some harm. Treatment for minor cell changes can cause pain, bleeding and risk of infection, plus a small risk of causing problems for future pregnancies. The vast majority of cell changes in young women clear up naturally, without ever needing treatment.

Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you still need to have cervical screening.

The HPV vaccine protects against the main types of HPV which cause cervical cancer, but not all cancer-causing types.  

It’s important to remember that this information is about screening. A screening test is one that is offered by routine, when there are no symptoms. It is different from tests offered when people have signs or symptoms of an illness.

At any age, if you have any signs that something is not right – such as unusual bleeding, pain or discharge – talk to a doctor as soon as you can.