Who is cervical screening for?
You need a Cervical Screening Test if:
- you’re aged between 25 and 74
- have ever been sexually active
- you’re HPV-vaccinated or not
Your first Cervical Screening Test is due 2 years after your last Pap test.
If there are no problems, your next test will be in 5 years.
If you have symptoms, such as unusual bleeding or pain, see your doctor straight away. Don’t wait for your cervical screening appointment.
The Cervical Screening Test (the Pap test replacement*) looks for human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus in women and men. HPV infection that doesn’t clear up can cause changes in the cells of the cervix, which may eventually lead to cervical cancer.
Most women with HPV infection will not have symptoms. By detecting HPV in women who aren’t aware they have the infection, cervical screening prevents cervical cancer and saves lives.
Age 25: Your first screen
If you’ve been sexually active (even with just one partner), you should have your first Cervical Screening Test at the age of 25. If your test results are normal (HPV not found), you’ll be invited back for your next Cervical Screening Test in five years.
Remember, the test usually only takes a few minutes and while it may be a little uncomfortable, it will give you a lot of peace of mind.
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.
If you receive a normal result from your Cervical Screening Test, the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) will send you a letter in five years’ time, reminding you to book an appointment for your next test.
As the Cervical Screening Test is more effective than the Pap test at identifying women who may eventually go on to develop cervical cancer, it is safe to screen every five years instead of every two years.
Age 70-74: Your exit test
If you’re aged between 70 and 74, you’ll be invited to have a final Cervical Screening Test, called an exit test. If this Cervical Screening Test is normal and there is no HPV, you won’t need to attend further screening.
Information for women aged 18-24
If you’re aged between 18 and 24 and have already had a Pap test, you might be confused about when you should have cervical screening.
If you’ve had any abnormal Pap test results, you should talk to your doctor about what to do next.
If you’ve had normal Pap test results so far, it is safe to wait until you’re 25 to have your first Cervical Screening Test.
Why has the starting age for cervical screening changed?
The decision to change the age that women should start cervical screening is based on high-level, international research. The research shows:
- Cervical cancer is very rare in women younger than 25
- While HPV infection is very common in women of this age group, it usually clears up by itself within 1-2 years
- HPV infection that doesn’t clear up on its own usually takes 10-15 years to develop into cervical cancer
- There are some risks associated with treating abnormalities in the cervix in young women, including the chance of pregnancy complications later in life (and the HPV infection is likely to clear up on its own anyway)
Remember: if you ever experience any symptoms, such as unusual bleeding or pain, see your doctor straight away – no matter what age you are.
Can I develop cervical cancer in between screens?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection that does not clear up. As cervical cancer usually takes 10-15 years to develop from HPV infection, the chance of cancer developing in between your Cervical Screening Tests is very low, even if you were to be infected with HPV the day after your test.
What if I have symptoms, such as unusual bleeding or pain?
Cervical screening is for women with no symptoms. If you experience any symptoms, such as unusual bleeding or pain, see your doctor straight away rather than waiting to have your Cervical Screening Test.
Still not sure if you need a Cervical Screening Test?
There might be a reason why you don’t think cervical screening is right for you. However, cervical screening is for all women aged 25-74 who have ever been sexually active.
Check out these common reasons women use to avoid cervical screening.
I don’t think I need a Cervical Screening Test because:
I feel fine and have no symptoms
Even if you are well, with no symptoms and have no family history of cervical cancer, you still need to have a Cervical Screening Test every five years. The types of HPV most likely to cause cervical cancer have no symptoms.
I’ve had the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine, you still need to attend your five-yearly screen.
I don’t have sex anymore
The most common type of cervical cancer takes 10-15 years to develop, so even if you’re no longer having sex, you need to have your Cervical Screening Test every five years unless your doctor advises otherwise.
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.
I’m gay, lesbian or bisexual
HPV infection (the primary cause of cervical cancer) is transmitted through direct genital skin-to-skin contact, so even if you’ve only had sex with women, you are still at risk of being infected with HPV.
I don’t identify as female
Anyone with an intact cervix should have a Cervical Screening Test every five years, including transgender people who have changed their gender from female to male.
I’ve only had one sexual partner
Even if you’ve only been sexually active with a single partner, you still need to have regular Cervical Screening Tests.
I’ve been through menopause
You should continue having your Cervical Screening Test every five years, up to the age of 74, even after you’ve been through menopause.
Don’t delay cervical screening. If you’re aged between 25 and 74 and have ever been sexually active, a Cervical Screening Test every five years could save your life.
 Department of Health, 2020. Information for healthcare providers about their role in the National Cervical Screening Program. Available at: http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/healthcare-providers
*In December 2017, the cervical screening test replaced the Pap test as the method of screening women to prevent cervical cancer in Australia
When is my Cervical Screening Test due?
From December 2017, the Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap test.
If you are over 25 and have been having Pap tests, you will be due for your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test, then every five years following a normal test result (a result where HPV was not found).
Have your first Cervical Screening Test around the time you turn 25.
If your last Pap test was more than two years ago or if you’ve never screened, book your Cervical Screening Test now.