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Key facts about cervical screening
Cervical screening prevents cervical cancer by finding HPV - an infection that can cause cell changes over time, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer
The Cervical Screening Test is for all women aged 25–74, who have ever been sexually active, even if they have only had one partner
- You only need to have a Cervical Screening Test once every five years if your previous test was normal (no HPV found)
- The test usually only takes a few minutes - and while it may be uncomfortable, it could save your life
Cervical cancer can be prevented through regular cervical screening. A Cervical Screening Test every five years can prevent cervical cancer, so a few minutes every five years could save your life.
When is my cervical screening test due?
From December 2017, the Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap test*. If you 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 (HPV-negative) test result.
If your last Pap test was more than two years ago or you’ve never screened, book your Cervical Screening Test now.
If you’re unsure when you’re due for your next cervical screen, contact your doctor who can look it up for you, or call the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) on 1800 627 701. You will soon be able to check a website to find out when you were last tested.
*Find out about the changes to the National Cervical Screening Program
Information on cervical screening
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer occurring in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) which opens into the vagina.
An infection called human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of almost all cervical cancers.
Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women. Around 85% of cervical cancers occur in less developed regions. The difference in factors like the number of cervical cancers and deaths from cervical cancer between developed and less developed regions shows the benefits of regular cervical screening, through programs such as the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP).
Australia has the second lowest rate of cervical cancer in the world, mainly due to the success of this program.
What is cervical screening?
Cervical screening prevents cervical cancer by looking for HPV.
HPV is a very common infection that most people will have at some point – it is transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact. HPV usually clears up on its own naturally within 1-2 years. In rare cases, HPV infection that does not clear up can cause cell changes which can lead to cervical cancer. This usually takes 10-15 years.
Why is cervical screening important?
The new Cervical Screening Test will prevent HPV infection that does not clear up from developing into cervical cancer, by identifying women who have the infection. As HPV doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, most women won’t even know they have it.
Since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) in 1991, the number of women developing and dying from cervical cancer has halved.
- Read more about cervical cancer and HPV
Who can get HPV infection?
Anyone who has been sexually active can get HPV infection, even if you’ve only ever been with one partner. It is a common result of being sexually active.
Who should have a Cervical Screening Test?
If you’re aged 25-74 and have ever been sexually active, you need to have a Cervical Screening Test every five years. This includes women who have already had the HPV vaccination.
Cervical screening is for well women with no symptoms - it is an important part of living a healthy life for yourself and your family.
If you’ve been sexually active at any point, speak to your doctor or nurse about when to start cervical screening. Talk to your female friends and family members about having a Cervical Screening Test too.
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.
What happens at a cervical screening appointment?
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 bed 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 from your cervix.
The test does not usually take long and is completely safe. You may feel some discomfort, but it should not hurt. If you do feel any pain, you should 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.
How will I get the results of my Cervical Screening Test?
After your test, the cells will be sent to a lab for testing and the nurse or doctor will explain to you how you will get your results. The good news is, if HPV is not found in your cells, your next Cervical Screening Test will be in five years.
If HPV is found in your cells, your doctor will let you know if you need to have another Cervical Screening Test in 12 months, or have further tests sooner.
- Understand the results of a cervical screening test
Where can I have my Cervical Screening Test?
You can have your Cervical Screening Test at your regular nurse or doctor, or with a different doctor or nurse.
It’s ok to choose a doctor who isn’t your usual doctor if this will make you feel more comfortable having your test. Remember that doctors and nurses perform these tests all the time as part of their job.
If you’re feeling anxious about the test, you can take a family member or friend along with you.
Can I get help with translation and interpreting services?
If you have difficulty communicating in English, you can call Translating and Interpreting Services on 13 14 50. Interpreters can help you with understanding cervical screening information, booking your screening appointment, and arranging to have an interpreter with you at your test.
Find out about a cervical screening with specific needs
Can I bring a friend or family member to my appointment?
Yes! You are welcome to bring a support person along, e.g. a friend or family member to your Cervical Screening Test.
What if I forget when my next Cervical Screening Test is due?
If you’re unsure when you’re due for your next cervical screen, contact your doctor or call the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) on 1800 627 701.
You can use Translating and Interpreting Services to contact the NCSR by calling 1800 627 701.
What’s stopping you from screening?
There may be certain cultural or religious beliefs that are making you reluctant to book a Cervical Screening Test. If any of the reasons below are stopping you from screening, read on to find out why regular cervical screening is important for all women.
- “The doctor might think I’m not a virgin, which isn’t ok in my culture”
Anything you disclose to your doctor is completely confidential, so you don’t need to worry about your private information being shared.
- “My local doctor is a man”
You don’t have to have your Cervical Screening Test with your regular doctor. If you don’t feel comfortable having a male doctor perform your test, you can ask to see a female doctor or nurse, or have your test at a different practice.
- “Some members of my family or community will judge me”
Having a Cervical Screening Test is an important part of staying healthy, as the test could save your life by preventing cervical cancer. Your doctor will not disclose the fact you have had a Cervical Screening Test to anyone else without your consent.
“In my culture or religion, we don’t talk about things associated with sex”
It’s important for all women aged 25-74 who have ever been sexually active to have regular cervical screening. Remember, having HPV infection (the primary cause of cervical cancer) does not mean you are promiscuous. By identifying women at higher risk of developing cervical cancer, the Cervical Screening Test saves lives.
Your Cervical Screen
Wondering what to expect at your cervical screen appointment? We’ve got all the information you need.
- Check out our guide to your cervical screen.