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What is the cervical screening test?

Screening is organised testing to find cancer in people before any symptoms appear. The cervical screening test finds cancer-causing types of HPV in a sample of cells taken from the cervix. This test replaced the Pap test in 2017.

The National Cervical Screening Program recommends that women start cervical screening at age 25 and then have a cervical screening test every five years up to the age of 74. Whether you identify as straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, if you have a cervix you need to have regular cervical screening tests.

During the test, a doctor or nurse gently inserts an instrument called a speculum into the vagina to get a clear view of the cervix. They will then use a brush or spatula to remove some cells from the surface of the cervix. This can feel slightly uncomfortable, but it usually takes only a minute or two. The sample is placed into a small container of liquid and sent to a laboratory to check for HPV. If HPV is found, a specialist doctor called a pathologist will do an additional test on the sample to check for cell abnormalities. This is called liquid-based cytology (LBC).

The test results are used to predict your level of risk for significant cervical changes. If the results show:

  • a higher risk – your GP will refer you for a colposcopy
  • an intermediate risk – you will be monitored for changes by having a follow-up test for HPV in 12 months
  • a low risk – you will be due for your next cervical screening test in five years.

A small number of women are diagnosed with cervical cancer because of an abnormal cervical screening test. For more information about screening tests, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit cervicalscreening.org.au.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in September 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Pearly Khaw, Lead Radiation Oncologist, Gynae-Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Deborah Neesham, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Frances Perry House, VIC; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, VIC; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Krystle Drewitt, Consumer; Shannon Philp, Nurse Practitioner, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, NSW; Dr Robyn Sayer, Gynaecological Oncologist Cancer Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Megan Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Council NSW; Melissa Whalen, Consumer.