Frequently asked questions – cervical screening

Page last updated: 30 August 2018

The Cervical Screening Test is expected to protect up to 30% more people from cervical cancer. The test is more effective because it detects the human papillomavirus (known as HPV). HPV is a common infection that can cause cervical cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer.

The Cervical Screening Test is a simple procedure to check the health of your cervix that involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix and sending it to a laboratory to be examined.

Once you have had your first Cervical Screening Test, you’ll only need to have one every five years, if your results are normal.

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The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate at detecting changes in the cervix than the Pap test. The new test detects the human papillomavirus (known as HPV). If HPV is found another test is automatically done to look for cell changes in the cervix. It usually takes 10 to 15 years to develop cervical cancer from a persistent HPV infection.

Because of the improved accuracy of the test and the length of time it takes for cancer to develop, it is safe to wait for five years between tests for women who do not have a HPV infection.

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The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate as it detects human papillomavirus (known as HPV), whereas the Pap test checked for cervical cell changes.

HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases (if left untreated) can develop into cervical cancer. By detecting a HPV infection early, it allows your healthcare provider to monitor the infection and intervene if there are any changes to cells in your cervix.

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You will need to get your first Cervical Screening Test at 25 years of age. Talk to your healthcare provider about when your next test is due.

If at any age you have symptoms, such as unusual vaginal bleeding, discharge or pain during sex, you should see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

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Cervical cancer in people under the age of 25 is rare. Since screening began in 1991, the National Cervical Screening Program based on the Pap test has not reduced the number of women who develop cervical cancer in this age group.

Commencing screening at 25 will reduce the investigation and treatment of common cervical abnormalities that would usually resolve by themselves in woman under 25. This is because it can take more than 10 to 15 years for a persistent HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer.

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It is safe to continue routine screening at 25 years of age if your last test result was normal. You will receive a transition letter from the National Cervical Screening Program advising of the change to commencement age for cervical screening.

People aged less than 25 years that have previously screened and received an abnormal test result should continue to follow their healthcare provider's advice.

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The Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV. If HPV is found another test is automatically done to look for cell changes in the cervix. The Cervical Screening Test does not look for any other conditions, for example other sexually transmitted infections or ovarian cancer.

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If you are aged 25 to 74 years you should have your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test.

If you are turning 25 or are older than 25 and have never had a Pap test before, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider to have a Cervical Screening Test.

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No, you should have your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test. If your Cervical Screening Test is normal you will only need to have the test every five years. Talk to your healthcare provider about when your next test is due.

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Symptoms of cervical cancer can include unusual vaginal bleeding discharge or pain during sex. At any age, if you experience any of these symptoms, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

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There is a Medicare rebate for the Cervical Screening Test. Ask your healthcare provider if they can bulk bill for your appointment or if there are any additional costs. There may be a fee for your appointment depending on your healthcare provider.

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Yes, if you are not currently sexually active it is still important to have regular Cervical Screening Tests. You should have the test every five years, from 25 to 74 years of age.

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Yes, it is important you still get regular Cervical Screening Tests even if you have been through menopause. You should have the test every five years, from 25 to 74 years of age.

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Healthcare providers who can do a Cervical Screening Test include:

  • General practitioners (GPs)
  • Nurses trained in cervical screening
  • Doctors
  • Specialists such as gynaecologists
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health workers

Remember, you can always ask for a female healthcare provider to do your test.

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HPV specific FAQs

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. It is so common that many people have it at some point in their lives and never know it as there are usually no symptoms.

There are many types of HPV and your body’s immune system will naturally clear most types within one to two years.

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If your body does not clear a HPV infection, it can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer. For most women the HPV infection will clear from the body in 1 to 2 years.  It usually takes more than 10 to 15 years to develop cervical cancer from a persistent HPV infection.

Cervical cancer is preventable with regular cervical screening. The Cervical Screening Test detects HPV. This allows your healthcare provider to monitor the infection and intervene if there are any changes to cells in your cervix.

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There is no treatment for HPV. In most cases the immune system will clear HPV from the body naturally over time and has no long lasting effects.  Most people with a HPV infection have no symptoms and will never know they have it.

If your body does not clear a HPV infection, it can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer. If cervical cell changes due to HPV are found by a Cervical Screening Test, your healthcare provider will advise you about further testing and treatment.

Some types of HPV can cause genital warts and your healthcare provider can suggest treatment options

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The HPV virus is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. You can be exposed to HPV the first time you engage in sexual activity, and from only one sexual partner.

Most people will have a HPV infection at some point in their lives but the body usually clears the virus. The virus is so common that it is a normal part of being sexually active.

Condoms may provide some protection from HPV, but condoms do not cover all the genital skin.

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Yes. Even if you have had the HPV vaccine you should have regular Cervical Screening Tests. The HPV vaccine protects from up to 90% of the HPV types that can cause several cancers including cervical, vaginal, vulval, anal, throat, and penile. It does not protect you against all types of HPV.

The HPV vaccine works best if you have it before you are exposed to the virus. If you have already been exposed to HPV through sexual activity before getting the vaccine, your protection from the vaccine may be reduced.

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Yes, however, it is extremely rare. HPV causes nearly all cervical cancers.  It is not clear what causes the rare forms of cervical cancer.  Neither the Pap test or the Cervical Screening Test can detect types of cervical cancer unrelated to HPV. 

At any age, it is important if you have symptoms such as unusual vaginal bleeding discharge or pain during sex that you see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

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Yes, you should still get tested for sexually transmitted infections. The Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV, which is one type of STI, but it doesn’t look for other STIs. See your healthcare provider for more information.

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