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Cervical screening

Regular cervical screening is your best protection against cervical cancer.

The screening test is a simple process that looks for signs of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common infection that causes most cervical cancers.

Who should have a cervical screening test

You need to have a cervical screening test if you:

  • are aged between 25 and 74
  • are a woman or a person with a cervix
  • have ever been sexually active.

It makes no difference if you:

  • have had the HPV vaccination or not
  • are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight
  • are no longer sexually active
  • have been through menopause
  • have been with only one sexual partner
  • have had a baby
  • are pregnant.

You don’t need a screening test if you have never had any type of sexual contact. If you have had a partial or full hysterectomy, check with your doctor about screening.

Outside the age range

Under 25

Common infections and abnormalities usually go away on their own before you’re 25, so it’s safe to wait until you turn 25 to have your first cervical screening test.

If you show symptoms of abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex or unusual discharge, you should discuss this with your doctor immediately.

If you’ve already had a test and had an abnormal result, continue to follow your doctor’s advice.

75 or over

If you’re over 75 you can still ask to have a subsidised cervical screening test, speak to your doctor.

Cervical screening tests

The test is a simple procedure to check the health of your cervix. Your cervix is the opening of the uterus (neck of the womb) and is at the top of your vagina.

You can choose to screen by:

  • having a healthcare provider collect your sample
  • collecting your own vaginal sample (self-collection)

Both options are equally accurate and safe to detect HPV.

Healthcare provider collection

A cervical screening test will be done in a private space with your healthcare provider. The test involves them putting a speculum into your vagina and collecting a sample from your cervix using a small brush. They will then send the sample to a laboratory for testing and will let you know how you will get your results.

Self-collection

A self-collection cervical screening test involves you collecting a sample from your vagina using a swab. This test is also done in a private space, such as behind a screen or in a bathroom. Your healthcare provider will give you more information to help you collect your own sample. They will then send the sample to the laboratory for testing and let you know how you will get your results.

Learn more about having your cervical screening test.

Your results

Your healthcare provider will tell you your results when they come back. If you’re told to return to screen in 5 years, it means your test did not find any HPV.

Some people may need more tests, including a repeat screening test, return to screen in 12 months or referral to a specialist:

  • A repeat cervical screening test may be required if you have an unsatisfactory test result—this doesn’t mean anything is wrong, it just means the laboratory couldn’t read the test properly.
  • If return to screen in 12 months result means you tested positive for HPV, but don’t need further investigation at the time. You’ll need another test in 12 months to see if your immune system gets rid of the HPV in that time.
  • If you are referred to a specialist, it means your results show you either tested positive for a type of HPV that requires further investigation, or the test found abnormal cells that may need treatment. You will be referred to a specialist (generally a gynaecologist) for a colposcopy. Learn more about the colposcopy procedure.

Read more on understanding your cervical screening test results.

You should receive a letter inviting you to screen again, but you can also check when you are due with your healthcare provider or the National Cancer Screening Register. The National Register has an online self-service portal for participants which will allow you to update your details and manage your participation. The participant portal is accessed via MyGov.

Learn more about the participant portal on the National Cancer Screening Register’s website, or by calling 1800 627 701.

Find a cervical screening test provider

A cervical screening test can be provided by your doctor/GP, nurse or healthcare provider. They can be provided in a number of settings, including:

Generally, your doctor will perform your cervical screening test. You can make an appointment with your doctor or practice nurse, make sure you mention the appointment is for a cervical screening test so they can book the appropriate amount of time.

If English is not your first language and you need help, please call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50. It will cost the same as a local phone call.