Cervical screening

Cervical screening reduces the number of women who develop and die from cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.

Cervical screening is a test to see if a woman’s cervix is healthy or if there are any changes that might increase her risk of cancer. The test detects early changes in the cervix well before cervical cancer develops and in good time for any changes to be treated. Cervical screening can also detect if cervical cancer is present.

Cervical screening does not check for other problems in the reproductive system such as ovarian cancer or sexually transmitted infections.

For more information go to the Australian Government Department of Health National Cervical Screening Program website.

Changes to the cervical screening program

The new cervical screening program started on 1 December 2017 with the cervical screening test (CST) replacing the current Pap test for cervical screening.

The new test uses Human Papillomavirus (HPV) detection and is more effective than the Pap test in determining a woman’s risk of developing serious cervical changes within the next 5 to 10 years.

The HPV cervical screening test is available on the Medicare benefits schedule.

For more information go to the Australian Government Department of Health National Cervical Screening Program website.

Who needs cervical screening

Women will have cervical screening every five years using the new CST.

Women aged between 25 and 74 years who have never been sexually active should have their first CST two years after their last normal Pap test.

Women who were sexually active in the past but aren't now, including lesbians, still need cervical screening.

Some women who have had a hysterectomy may need ongoing cervical screening and should ask a health practitioner for advice.

Women who have received the HPV vaccine still need a cervical screen.

Cervical screening is for women without any symptoms that might indicate cervical cancer.

If you are concerned about any symptoms contact your health care provider.

Women most at risk

Most cases of cervical cancer happen in women older than 40.

Most women who develop cervical cancer have never been screened or are very overdue for their next cervical test.

The test

A sample of cells from your cervix are collected and sent to a laboratory.

The new CST will check the sample for presence of HPV, and if this is found the same sample is then examined for abnormalities in the cells.

The combination of tests is a very accurate way of finding out a woman’s risk of developing serious cervical changes within the next 5 to 10 years.

Results

Most HPV infections clear up by themselves within 12 to 18 months.

Some women HPV can stay around longer, and the new cervical screening test aims to find these women so that they can have any further tests they may need to prevent possible development of cervical cancer in 10, 15 or more years’ time.

Most CST results will show that women are at low risk of developing cervical changes within the next 5 years. These women will be advised that their next screening test will be due in five years’ time.

A few results will indicate that a woman is at higher risk. These women will be recommended to have further cervical examinations.

A small group of women may have a result indicating intermediate risk. These women will be advised to return for another HPV test in 12 months.

Where you can get cervical screening

You can get a cervical screen in all of the following places:

  • any general practitioner (GP) clinic
  • community or women's health centre
  • family planning clinic
  • sexual health clinic
  • Aboriginal Medical Service.

Cervical screening register

The results of your Pap tests and the new cervical screening test, as well as details about your follow-up care and treatment, are recorded in a register. This register:

  • allows letters to be sent out so you know when your next CST, treatment or follow-up care are due
  • acts as a backup reminder for health practitioners
  • keeps a record of your cervical test history - especially helpful when changing doctors or moving interstate.

If you don't want to be on the register

If you don't want your details to be kept on the register, you need to tell the person taking your CST or any other cervical test. If you are getting further treatment, tell the doctor treating you.

You will need to do this every time any cervical test is done.

You can contact the register to have your information removed.

For more information talk to your doctor, nurse or health worker.

You can contact the register on 13 15 56.

Last updated: 21 December 2017