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About cervical screening

The National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) began in 1991 and until December 2017 the recommended interval for women and people with a cervix to have the Pap test was every two years. In 1999, it was discovered that human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of most cervical cancers. This led to the development of the HPV vaccine as well as some major changes to the NCSP.

The changes included replacing the Pap test in December 2017 with the Cervical Screening Test.

The Cervical Screening Test is more effective than the Pap test at preventing cervical cancers because it detects high-risk types of 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.

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Routine cervical screening is the best protection against cervical cancer.

What to expect from the first Cervical Screening Test

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
  • are no longer sexually active.

What is self-collection?

Everyone who is eligible for cervical screening will have the choice to screen using either a self-collected vaginal sample or a clinician collected sample taken from the cervix.

Self-collection requires a person gently putting a cotton swab in their vagina and rotating the swab 2-3 times for about 10 seconds. The swab will collect a sample of cells from the vagina, which will be tested to see if HPV is present.

Self-collection does not need to collect cells from the cervix.

This test is done privately at the doctor’s or other health setting, usually behind a screen or in the bathroom.

In some cases, a doctor or nurse may be able to support people doing the test at home under the guidance of telehealth.

If people are unsure on how to do the self-collection test - a doctor or nurse will explain how to do the test and can help if they need it. They can also give additional test kits if people need to do it again.

For more information visit our page on self collection.

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.

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.

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.