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About the national cancer screening programs

Cervical screening and HPV

Learn more about National Cervical Cancer Screening Program and participation rates.

About cervical screening

The National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) began in 1991 and until December 2017 the recommended interval for Pap tests was two years. In 1999, it was discovered that HPV infection is the cause of most cervical cancers, and the subsequent development of the HPV vaccine led to some major changes in the program.

In December 2017, the Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap test in Australia. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Routine cervical screening is the best protection against cervical cancer.

The Cervical Screening Test is more effective than the Pap test at preventing cervical cancers because it detects the human papillomavirus (known as HPV), whereas the Pap test looked for cell changes in the cervix. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV and is a very common infection which usually shows no obvious symptoms. The virus is passed by sexual contact and can infect everyone.

The body can get rid of most HPV infections naturally but if it doesn't, some types of HPV can cause changes to the cells of the cervix, which can turn into cervical cancer if not picked up early.

The Cervical Screening Test is available to women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 with no symptoms or signs of cervical cancer and is only required every five years if the result is normal.

What to expect from the first Cervical Screening Test

Is the Cervical Screening Test free?

A doctor or nurse can provide the Cervical Screening Test. Women and people with a cervix eligible for cervical screening do not need to pay for the screening test, but the doctor may charge their standard consultation fee for the appointment. Some doctors , clinics and health centres offer bulk billing, which means there are no out-of-pocket expenses. It's important for people to check if there are any costs when making their appointment. To find a cervical screening provider in Victoria visit Cancer Council Victoria website.

In 2018, 54.1% of Australian women aged 25-74 participated in cervical screening
  • For every 1,000 women screened, 7 women had a high-grade abnormality detected by histology
  • In 2015, 727 women aged 20–69 were diagnosed with cervical cancer

Who should have the Cervical Screening Test

Health workers are often asked by patients if they should have the Cervical Screening Test. A Cervical Screening Test is needed in anyone aged 25-74 with a cervix, even if they:

  • have had the HPV vaccine
  • are past menopause
  • have only had one sexual partner
  • have traditional cutting/circumcision
  • have had a baby
  • are married
  • are divorced
  • are widowed.

What is self-collection?

The self-collection method of cervical screening is when a woman or person with a cervix takes their own vaginal sample using a cotton swab. This test is done privately at the doctor’s or other health setting, usually behind a screen or in the bathroom.

Currently, people who are eligible for self-collection:

  • are aged 30 and over
  • are at least 2 years overdue (i.e. haven't had a Pap Test in the last 4 years) or have never been screened, and
  • have no symptoms (like unexplained bleeding).

Not all women and people with a cervix are currently eligible for a self-collection, so it is important that they speak to their doctor first. For more information visit Cancer Council Victoria.

Sandy Anderson (OAM) talks about self-collection and how this cervical screening method can help overcome barriers.

Is self collection as accurate as a Cervical Screening Test?

A self-collected test is just as effective at detecting HPV as a practitioner-collected Cervical Screening Test. A GP or Nurse Cervical Screening Provider will explain how to do the self-collected test. It is a simple, reliable test. If women and people with a cervix are interested in self-collection, it is important that they speak to their GP or Nurse Cervical Screening Provider about eligibility. If they are eligible, their practitioner will provide them with a swab and explain how to do the test.

For more information regarding the cervical screening program visit the National Cervical Screening Program website.

In the related resources below, Cancer Council Victoria have developed a presentation on cervical screening, which can be used to assist in delivering presentations to the community.