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Cancer of the cervix is one of the most preventable of all cancers. A Cervical Screening Test can detect the presence of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and find early changes to the cells long before cancer of the cervix develops.

Research indicates that the new Cervical Screening Test is expected to further reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality by at least 20 per cent.

Cancer Council recommends:

  • All women aged 25–74 who have ever been sexually active should have a Cervical Screening Test every five years, even if they are no longer having sex.
  • Screening should commence at 25 years of age or two years after your last Pap smear.
  • Boys and girls aged 12 and 13 years should be immunised against HPV.

Sometimes the cells of the cervix start to change without you having any symptoms. The abnormal cells can be found and treated before they turn into cancer. A Cervical Screening Test can detect the presence of HPV and early cell changes

The new Cervical Screening Test will detect cancer-causing HPV types in a sample of cells taken from the cervix. Clinical trials have shown that screening for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) every five years is more effective than, and just as safe as, screening with a Pap test every two years.

Cells are collected from your cervix and sent to a laboratory where they are tested for the presence of HPV. If the results show the presence of HPV, the pathology laboratory will conduct a test on the original sample to determine if any cervical cell abnormalities are present.

Women who test positive for any HPV strains will be managed by their doctor or referred to a specialist for investigations which may include a colposcopy.

See ‘Understanding your Cervical Screening Test results‘ for more information.

You can have a Cervical Screening Test at:

  • your doctor’s
  • some women’s health centres and some community health centres
  • Aboriginal health services
  • Migrant Health Service
  • limited services available at ShineSA clinics.

Your results will be sent to your doctor or health service, in about one to two weeks. Make sure you contact your doctor for your results. Always see your doctor if you have any new symptoms e.g. unusual bleeding.

Most changes to the cells of the cervix are due to an infection called HPV—Human Papilloma Virus.

Anyone who has ever had sexual contact could have HPV—it is so common that four in five people will have had genital HPV at some time in their lives. In most women the virus clears up naturally in one to two years. Although HPV infection can cause cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer it usually take a long time—often more than 10 years.

There is a vaccine available that can prevent new infection with some of the types of HPV that have been associated with causing cervical cancer, anal cancer and genital warts. It is advised that young people are vaccinated before they have been exposed to the virus e.g. before they have had any sexual contact. The vaccine is available in Australia, free, for boys and girls aged 12 and 13 under the National HPV Vaccination Program.

In Australia the vaccine is approved for use in males and females from nine years old up to 26 years. For those that did not receive the vaccination during the School Immunisation Program and would like to be immunised, they will need to get the vaccine from a doctor. It will cost approximately $450 for the full three-dose course, which is given over eight months.

Women still need to have regular Cervical Screening Tests from the age of 25, even after having the vaccine.

National Cervical Screening Program—additional resources, including HPV and cervical cancer, and resources in other languages

HPV vaccine and cervical screening information—Cancer Council Australia resource

National HPV Vaccination Program—who is eligible and how to get the vaccine

Cervical screening—what this means for you

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) and Cancer—DES was taken by some women between the 1950s and 1970s to try and prevent miscarriage and other pregnancy complications.  Although the majority of persons exposed to DES, during pregnancy or in utero, will not experience any negative health effects, available research findings indicate that exposure to DES increases the risk of some health problems including some cancers.

This webpage was last reviewed and updated in January 2021.