Treatments and tests

Cervical Screening Test

  • A Cervical Screening Test is a quick and simple test used to check the health of your cervix.
  • The Cervical Screening Test looks for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
  • HPV infections can cause abnormal cervical cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. This usually takes a long time, about 10 to 15 years.
  • Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by HPV.
Do I need a Cervical Screening Test?

All women aged 25 to 74 years who have ever been sexually active should have a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years.

This includes:

  • well women
  • pregnant women
  • women who have sex with women
  • women who no longer have periods
  • women who are no longer sexually active
  • women who have been vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • women who have only had one sexual partner
  • women with an intellectual or physical disability
  • transgender men who still have an intact cervix.

A Cervical Screening Test is for women who are well without any unusual signs or symptoms. If you have any symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding or discharge, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

If you are unsure of when you are due to screen, please speak with your healthcare provider or contact the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701.

What if I have had a hysterectomy?

Women who have had a hysterectomy should discuss their need to have a Cervical Screening Test with their healthcare provider. The need to continue with cervical screening for women without a uterus depends on the type of hysterectomy they had and the reason for the hysterectomy.

What if I have had the HPV vaccine?

Women that have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine also need to participate in regular cervical screening. This is because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer.

Where can I have a Cervical Screening Test?

You can have a Cervical Screening Test at your:

  • GPs surgery
  • Aboriginal Medical Service
  • Women’s Health Centre
  • Community Health Clinic.
Your Cervical Screening Test can be taken by a GP, nurse, midwife, Aboriginal Health Worker or gynaecologist.

It is important you feel comfortable with the healthcare provider taking your Cervical Screening Test and you can request a different person if you want. Some women feel more comfortable with a female and request a female for their appointment, even if their usual healthcare provider is a male.

When you have chosen a healthcare provider you feel comfortable with, call to make an appointment. Make sure you tell the receptionist the appointment is for a Cervical Screening Test as you may need to book a longer appointment.

Find out more about where you can have a Cervical Screening Test.

How is a Cervical Screening Test taken?

When you arrive for your Cervical Screening Test your healthcare provider will ask you some routine health questions. This is a good time for you to ask any questions about the Cervical Screening Test or your general health. If you are feeling worried or anxious let your healthcare provider know.

You will be asked to undress in private from the waist down, given a sheet to cover yourself and asked to lay down on an examination table. The healthcare provider will use a speculum to visualise your cervix (the opening of the womb) by gently inserting the speculum into your vagina. Lubrication can be used to make the procedure more comfortable for you.

Once the speculum is in place and the cervix is visualised, cells are collected from the cervix with a small soft brush and then placed in a container of liquid. This only takes a few seconds and once this is done, the speculum is removed and the Cervical Screening Test is complete.

A Cervical Screening Test is a quick, simple and safe procedure. Having a Cervical Screening Test may be uncomfortable but should not be painful. If you feel uncomfortable during the examination or want the healthcare provider to stop, let the healthcare provider know.

What happens after the sample is taken?

The cervical cells that were collected and placed in the container of liquid are sent to a laboratory. The laboratory looks for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). If HPV is found, the same cervical sample is then re-tested to look for any abnormal cervical cells.

It usually takes 1 to 2 weeks for your healthcare provider to receive your results from the laboratory. It’s important to agree on a way of getting your results with your healthcare provider.

Find out more about Cervical Screening Test results.

What if I am feeling anxious about my Cervical Screening Test?

Women can often feel anxious or nervous about having a Cervical Screening Test, especially if it is their first time.

You may find it helpful to first meet with your healthcare provider to discuss any concerns you may have about the procedure or the results you might get.

You can bring a support person with you to your appointment.

How much does a Cervical Screening Test cost?

Two costs are involved – the appointment fee (healthcare provider consultation fee) and the Cervical Screening Test fee (laboratory testing fee). Some healthcare providers and laboratories bulk bill and if so, there is no cost for you.

The cost of having a Cervical Screening Test differs between healthcare providers. When you are booking your appointment ask if there is an appointment fee and/or a laboratory fee for having a Cervical Screening Test.

What is self-collection?

Self-collection is when you collect your own sample for cervical screening. Please speak to your healthcare provider to see if you are eligible for self-collection.

What are the recent changes to cervical screening in Australia?

In December 2017 the 2-yearly Pap smear was replaced by the 5-yearly Cervical Screening Test. These changes are the result of a rigorous review of the latest medical research, scientific developments and evidence relating to cervical cancer. For more information visit the National Cervical Screening Program (external site).

Where to get help


Last reviewed: 26-02-2019
Acknowledgements

WA Cervical Cancer Prevention Program


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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