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Cervical screening test

The five-yearly Cervical Screening Test has now replaced the two-yearly Pap test.

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What is the Cervical Screening Test?

The Cervical Screening Test is a simple procedure to check the health of your cervix. It looks and feels the same as the Pap test, but tests for the human papillomavirus (HPV). Your first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after your last Pap test. After that, you will need to have the test only every five years if your results are normal.

Regular cervical screening is your best protection against cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and the Australian government expects the Cervical Screening Test to protect up to 30% more women than the Pap test.

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How is it different from a Pap test?

The Pap test used to look for cell changes in the cervix, whereas the new Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV, which can lead to cell changes in the cervix (see diagram). In this way, the new screening test is a step ahead of the Pap test.

What is HPV?

HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer.

Why every five years instead of two?

Because the Cervical Screening Test looks for the virus that causes cell changes, it is safe for you – if your test does not show you have a HPV infection – to wait five years between tests. Even if your test shows you have HPV, it usually takes 10 or more years for HPV to develop into cervical cancer. However, it's important to remember that cervical cancer is a rare outcome of an HPV infection.

When do I start having Cervical Screening Tests?

If you are 25 to 74 years old, have a cervix and have ever been sexually active, you need to have your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test. This includes people vaccinated or unvaccinated for HPV, as well as people who identify as lesbian or transgender.

If you are turning 25 years old, or have never had a Pap test, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to have a Cervical Screening Test.

No matter your age, if you have abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain or discharge, or other symptoms not normal for you, you need to discuss these with your healthcare provider immediately.

How is the test done?

In the new test, the sample is collected in the same way as the Pap test – by taking a small sample of cells from the woman's cervix. However, the new test will be processed in a different way in the laboratory. As with the Pap test, the procedure might be a bit uncomfortable, but should not hurt. If it does hurt, tell your healthcare provider straight away.

If you are due for testing, contact your healthcare provider to book an appointment. For more information about the National Cervical Screening Program, call 13 15 56.

Watch this video that explains the changes (Cervical Screening Program, Department of Health).

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at October 2018.

Last updated: 30 January 2020 | Last reviewed: 11 October 2018

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