There is a test in Australia called the Cervical Screening Test. The Cervical Screening Test checks the health of a woman’s cervix. The test can help prevent cervical cancer.

On this page you will find information about:

Where is the cervix?

The cervix is inside the body at the top of the vagina. The cervix connects the vagina to the uterus.

Female reproductive system

What is cervical cancer?

Our bodies are made up of millions of cells. New cells grow every day.

Sometimes when cells grow differently they can turn into cancer. Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix.

Cells changing from normal to cancerous

What causes cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus. The human papilloma virus is sometimes called HPV.

There are many types of HPV. Women and men can get HPV.

HPV is very common. Anyone who has ever been sexually active could have HPV.

HPV is passed on from skin to skin contact of the genitals, anus and mouth.

Up to 80% of people will have HPV at some point.

Sometimes HPV can change the cells in the cervix. These changes can turn into cancer. These changes happen very slowly.

It can take up to 15 years for these changes to turn into cancer. Sometimes these changes do not turn into cancer at all.

Women can have a test to look for HPV in the cervix. HPV does not have any symptoms.

The only way to know if a woman has HPV is to have a Cervical Screening Test.

The Cervical Screening Test

The Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV in the cervix. The Cervical Screening Test is not a test for cancer.

The Cervical Screening Test can help find cell changes before they turn in to cancer.

Woman talking to clinician

Who should have a Cervical Screening Test?

Women aged between 25 and 74 should have the test.

Women who have ever been sexually active should have the test.

Women who are no longer sexually active should still have the test.

Women do not need to have the test until they are 25.

If a woman has had a hysterectomy she should ask her doctor if she needs the test.

Women who are pregnant can have a Cervical Screening Test at any time during their pregnancy.

Women who have never been sexually active do not need to have the test.

A hysterectomy is a procedure where the uterus (possibly other organs too) is removed.

Woman smiling

When should I have the Cervical Screening Test?

Women should have the test every 5 years. If a woman has had an abnormal Cervical Screening Test, she should ask her doctor when her next test is.

If a woman is between 25-74 years old and has never had a Cervical Screening Test, she should have the Cervical Screening Test as soon as possible.

How is the Cervical Screening Test done?

A doctor or nurse will take a woman in to a private room and close the door.

The appointment will be confidential. This means that the doctor or nurse will not tell anyone what was said during the appointment.

The doctor or nurse will ask the woman to take her clothes off from the waist down.

A woman may choose to wear a long skirt. This is so she can lift the skirt up instead of taking her clothes off.

She will lie on the examination bed. She will have her feet up and knees bent.

A doctor or nurse will use special tools to take some cells from her cervix. The cells will be sent to a laboratory to be tested.

The doctor or nurse will call or send her a letter when her results come back.

Clinician performing test

Is it safe to wait 5 years between Cervical Screening Tests?

It is safe to wait five years between tests. Cervical cancer usually takes 10 to 15 years to develop from HPV infection.

If a woman’s test shows no HPV then it is unlikely that cancer will develop before her next test.

What does a positive test result mean?

Sometimes a test will be positive. If a test is positive this means that the woman has HPV.

This does not mean she has cervical cancer. She may be at risk of cervical cancer in the future.

The doctor or nurse will talk to her about what happens next.

What does a negative test result mean?

If a test is negative this means that it did not find HPV. The next Cervical Screening Test will be in five years.

Where can I have the Cervical Screening Test?

  • Family Planning NSW clinic
  • local doctor or General Practitioner (GP)
  • Women’s Health Centre

A woman can ask for a female doctor or nurse to do the test.

Woman making an appointment

What if I cannot speak English?

A woman can have an interpreter with her at the appointment or over the phone. Family Planning NSW provides interpreters for free. A woman can ask the receptionist to organise an interpreter when making her appointment.

Woman talking to clinician through an interpreter

Self-collected test

Some women have the option to do a self-collected test. The self-collected test is when a woman inserts a swab in to her vagina. The swab will collect cells from her vagina.

The self-collected test can only be done at a Medical or Health Care Clinic. This test is not as accurate as the Cervical Screening Test. This is because the self-collected test will only get a sample of cells from a woman’s vagina. A Cervical Screening Test collects cells from the cervix.

The self-collected test is only available for women:

  • aged 30 years or over
  • who have said no to having a Cervical Screening Test and have either
    • never had a Pap or Cervical Screening Test
    • are overdue for cervical screening by two years or more

What are the signs of cervical cancer?

The Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV in the cervix before it causes cancer.

The Cervical Screening Test is for women who do not have symptoms of cervical cancer. Women do not usually experience symptoms of cervical cancer.

Some symptoms of cervical cancer can be:

  • bleeding from the vagina after sex
  • bleeding from the vagina in between periods
  • bleeding from the vagina after menopause
  • watery discharge from the vagina

Discharge is the fluid that comes out of a woman's vagina

If a woman has any of these symptoms it does not mean she has cervical cancer. She should not wait for her next Cervical Screening Test. She should see her doctor straight away.

National Cancer Screening Register

There is a cancer screening register in Australia. The National Cancer Screening Register sends letters to women.

The letters will let women know when they need to have their next Cervical Screening Test.

Women can ask to be taken off the register by filling out a form on the National Cancer Screening Register webpage.

Click here, for more information on the National Cancer Screening Register

The HPV Vaccine

Girls and boys can get a free HPV vaccine in high school. Vaccines are injections that help protect against disease. The HPV vaccine protects against most types of HPV.

Vaccinating boys can stop them from getting HPV and passing it on to a partner.

Women who have had the vaccine still need to have Cervical Screening Tests. This is because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV.

Your child's school will send a letter home with information about the vaccine.

Click here, for more information on the HPV vaccine.

For more information

Visit a Family Planning NSW clinic. Click here for our clinic locations https://www.fpnsw.org.au/clinics/

Call the Family Planning NSW Talkline on 1300 658 886

Talk to one of our nurses online

To talk to someone in your language, call the Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS) on 131 450. Ask to be connected to Family Planning NSW.

Videos about cervical screening

Cervical Screening Test video (English)

Cervical Screening Test video (Arabic)

Cervical Screening Test video (Assyrian)

Cervical Screening Test video (Dari)

Cervical Screening Test video (Farsi)

Cervical Screening Test video (Karen)

Cervical Screening Test video (Rohingya)

Brochures about cervical screening

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (English)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Arabic)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Assyrian)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Burmese)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Chinese)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Dari)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Dinka)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Farsi)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Hindi)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Karen)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Somali)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Spanish)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Swahili)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Tamil)

Know Your Health: Cervical Screening Test (Vietnamese)

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