Most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented through regular cervical screening.
Cervical screening can find changes in your body long before cancer develops. Treatment for these changes is very effective in preventing most cases of cervical cancer. The Cervical Screening Test is expected to further reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality by at least 20 per cent.
Participation in regular cervical screening gives you the best chance of detecting cancer early and ultimately, saving your life.
Cancer Council recommends:
- all women and people with a cervix aged 25–74 who have ever been sexually active have a Cervical Screening Test every five years
- you ask to do a ‘self-collected cervical screening test’ if you prefer not to have a speculum examination. Self-collection is now available for everyone. It involves taking a sample from your vagina using a long-handled cotton bud
- boys and girls aged 12 – 13 years be immunised against Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV)
- you see your GP if you are having any symptoms such as unusual bleeding or pain during sex.
Self-collection is now an option for cervical screening.
Anyone who is eligible for a Cervical Screening Test can now choose between self-collection or having a sample collected by a healthcare provider.
A self-collection test uses a long-handled cotton bud to collect your own sample from the vagina. You can take this test in private at the GP clinic or at home. When you book your appointment for cervical screening, ask if self-collection is available at your clinic.
A sample collected by a doctor or nurse involves inserting a speculum to collect cells from the cervix.
Both options are equally safe and effective. Talk to your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal Health Worker about which option is right for you.
Early detection of cervical cancer
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 Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) and early cell changes
What is a Cervical Screening Test?
A Cervical Screening Test involves taking a swab of the cervix or vagina to look for signs of HPV. Most cases of HPV clear up on their own and do not require treatment. However, if some types of HPV remain in the body for a long time, they can cause changes to your cells. Doing a cervical screening test every five years from the age of 25 means the doctor or nurse can monitor or investigate HPV if needed.
It is recommended that women and people with a cervix have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.
Women and people with a cervix aged 25-74 now have the choice of either a self-collected vaginal sample or a sample collected from the cervix by a doctor or nurse.
Both options are equally safe and effective. Talk with your GP, nurse or Aboriginal Health Worker about which option is right for you.
Where can I have a Cervical Screening Test?
You can have a Cervical Screening Test at:
- a GP clinic
- some women’s health centres and some community health centres.
If you are due for a Cervical Screening Test book an appointment with a GP clinic or women’s health clinic. Ask if there will be a cost for the appointment, as some healthcare providers charge a gap fee for the consultation. If you would prefer to do a self-collected test, ask if self-collection is available at your clinic.
Your results will be sent to your GP or health service in about one to two weeks. Make sure you contact your GP for your results.
HPV vaccine—what do I need to know?
Most changes to the cells of the cervix are due to an infection called Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
There is a vaccine available that can prevent infection with some types of HPV that have been associated with causing cervical cancer, anal cancer and genital warts.
All children aged 12–13 years are recommended to have the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective at this stage before sexual activity has commenced and when the body produces more antibodies. The vaccine is provided to students of this age for free through school as part of the National Immunisation Program.
If you missed out on getting the HPV vaccination at school, you can catch-up on the HPV vaccine for free before you turn 26 years of age by seeing your local doctor.
Older people may also benefit from the vaccine (particularly those at higher risk of HPV-related diseases). Speak to your doctor to find out if it’s right for you.
Women and people with a cervix still need to have regular a Cervical Screening Test from the age of 25, even after having the HPV vaccine.
National Cervical Screening Program—additional resources, including HPV and cervical cancer, and resources in other languages
HPV vaccine—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
This webpage was last reviewed and updated in February 2023