SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Cervical cancer can be prevented through regular screening (every 5 years).
- Cervical cancer screening is recommended for women or people with a cervix (25 to 74 years) who have been sexually active.
- The cervical screening test is effective because it detects the human papillomavirus (HPV).
- The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV infection known to cause cervical cancer, so continue having regular screens.
Cervical screening saves lives
Having regular cervical screening tests can prevent around 90% of cervical cancers through early detection and treatment.
Most cervical cancers occur in people who have never been screened or have not had regular screening.
If you experience any symptoms including abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex or unusual vaginal discharge, see your GP or healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Who is eligible for cervical screening?
Cervical screening is available to:
- Women or people with a cervix (25 to 74 years) who have been sexually active.
If you are unsure or would like to know more about fees, check with your clinic when booking the appointment.
If you are over 75, you can still ask to have a subsidised cervical screening test – talk to your GP or healthcare provider.
How to organise your cervical screening test
Cervical screening tests are available from:
- GP clinics
- community health centres
- women’s health centres
- family planning clinics
- sexual health clinics
- Aboriginal medical service or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service.
If you prefer, you can also ask for a female health professional to do your test.
How do I know when I need to have my cervical screening test?
People usually get a letter inviting them to take a cervical screening test. If this does not happen or you are unsure whether you need to be tested:
What happens at my cervical screening?
A cervical screening test only takes a few minutes. If you need support, you may like to take someone with you to your appointment.
A GP, nurse or health worker will take a pelvic examination, which is done in a private room at the clinic.
What do I wear to my cervical screening test?
It’s a good idea to wear comfortable clothing (such as a skirt or pants) as you will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist down.
What to expect during your cervical screening
The doctor, nurse or health worker will ask you to lie on a bed on your back with your knees apart – a blanket or sheet may be used to cover you.
The test involves:
- A speculum will gently be inserted into your vagina to hold it open so the cervix can be seen clearly.
- A cotton swab is used to take the cell sample.
- You will then be asked to get dressed.
- The sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing.
If you experience any discomfort, please tell the GP, nurse or health worker.
The female reproductive system
Image courtesy of Cancer Council
Collecting your own cervical test sample
Self-collection is only available if you are 30 years and over and:
- You have never had a cervical screening test (or Pap test).
- Your screening is at least 2 years overdue.
Speak with your GP or health service to work out the best option for you.
If you are eligible, you will be given:
- A self-collection device.
- Instructions on how to collect your sample.
- A private place to collect your sample.
The GP, nurse or health worker will then talk to you about the next steps.
Self-collection is a safe and effective method of testing. However, it can only test vaginal cells (not cells in your cervix), to check for HPV.
Getting your cervical screening test results
Cervical screening test results usually take 2 to 3 weeks to come back.
When your results are ready, they will be sent to the:
What if my cervical screening test result is negative?
If no HPV is found (your test result is negative) which is the case for most people, you will be asked to screen again in 5 years.
You should get a letter a few months before your next test is due.
What if my cervical screening test result is abnormal?
- The lab could not read the sample properly – you may be asked to repeat the test in 6-12 weeks.
- Your test results show you may have HPV. You will be asked to do another test in a year’s time to see if HPV is still present. There's a good chance that your body's immune system will get rid of the HPV in that time. If the HPV infection’s gone when you are retested, you’ll return to 5-yearly screening. If it is still there, you will be referred to a specialist.
- You have abnormal cell results that need further investigation. You will be referred to a specialist (usually a ) who will undertake a procedure called a (a bit like the screening test) which looks at the cells more closely.
Remember, always see your GP or healthcare provider earlier if you notice any unusual changes or have any concerns.