The current screening process

Since 1991, the Pap smear has been the primary screening test for cervical cancer in Australia. This is changing from 1 December 2017.

Page last updated: 17 May 2017

The cervical screening procedure is straightforward:

  1. your health care professional will insert a speculum (medical instrument) into the vagina so that the cervix can be seen more clearly
  2. some cells are gently taken from your cervix using a small brush
  3. the sample is sent to a laboratory for testing.

Where to have a Cervical Screening Test?

You can make an appointment to have a cervical screening test at your general practice, community or women’s health centre, family planning and sexual health clinic or Aboriginal Medical Service. You can ask for a female health care professional to take your sample if it makes you more comfortable.

When to have a Cervical Screening Test?

All women, who have ever had sex (this includes male to female and female to female sex) or skin to skin genital contact, are currently recommended to start having Pap smears between the ages of 18 to 20, or two years after first having sex, whichever is later.

There is no need to be screened earlier than 18.

At age 70 your health care professional may advise you that it’s safe to stop having a cervical screening test if you have had two normal Pap screens within the past five years.

The renewed National Cervical Screening Program

The Renewal of the National Cervical Screening Program will be implemented on 1 December 2017.

Until the renewed National Cervical Screening Program is implemented, our world-class cervical cancer screening program will continue. It is important that women aged between 18-69 years continue to have Pap smears every two years and talk to their doctor or health care professional if they have any questions.

Read more about the Future changes to the National Cervical Screening Program 

More information for health care professionals on the arrangements for cervical cancer screening between now and 1 December 2017 is available on our FAQ page

Cost of a cervical screening test

There are two costs involved – the doctor’s consultation cost and the cost of the laboratory test. The cost of consultation will depend on the general practice or health centre you attend. A Medicare rebate is available for both the consultation fee and the laboratory test.

Some practices and pathology laboratories bulk bill which means there are no out of pocket expenses. You can ask what the cost will be when you make an appointment.

An abnormal result does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer

Occasionally results show changes in the cells of the cervix. Most of these changes are due to HPV infections, which usually clear up naturally without any need for treatment.

In a small number of women, these cell changes may develop into a high-grade abnormality. In an even smaller number of women, persistent high-grade changes may progress to cervical cancer.

When detected early by cervical screening, high-grade abnormalities can be treated.

If you receive an abnormal result, you should discuss your result and the need for further tests or treatment with your Health Care Professional. Further information may be found in the booklet An abnormal Pap smear result: what this means for you.

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