The main points

  • Currently women aged over 18 years who have ever had sex with a partner of any gender are advised to have a Pap test no sooner than 2 years after first having sex and every 2 years after that (most usually). 
  • A Pap test looks for changes to the appearance of cells on the surface of the cervix.
  • From 2017 a new test will involve looking directly for the type of genital HPV that is responsible for causing changes to these cells. A much better test will be in use and the minimum age to start testing will change to 25 years and testing after that will be every 5 years (most usually).
  • If your Pap smear test shows abnormalities, you need careful follow-up. 

Pap smear testing, also known as cervical screening, is currently for women aged over 18 years who have ever had sex with a partner, of any gender.  Women are advised to have cervical screening no sooner than 2 years after first having sex and every 2 years after that (most usually). In 2017 a much better test will be in use and the minimum age to start testing will change to 25 years and testing after that will be every 5 years (most usually).

Pap smear tests only look for changes to the appearance of cells on the surface of the cervix. Changes to the appearance of these cells are caused by certain types of genital HPV.

From 2017 a new test will involve looking  directly for the type of genital HPV that is responsible for causing changes to these cells.

If left alone, most of these cell changes return to normal. For a small percentage of women, the cell changes do not return to normal and if not treated will lead to cancer of the cervix, usually after many years. Pap smear test result abnormalities are very common. However cancer of the cervix is uncommon in Australia because we have an excellent Pap screening and reminder system and also preventive treatments are readily available. Most women who do develop cancer of the cervix have not had regular Pap smear tests.

Pap smear test abnormalities

If your Pap smear test shows abnormalities, you need careful follow-up. Sometimes this will mean having a repeat test sooner than normal. Most often, further Pap smear testing shows a return to normal.

Sometimes, however, a colposcopy may be recommended.

Colposcopy

A colposcopy is done by a specialist doctor. It is similar to having a Pap smear test but takes a bit longer. It involves looking at the cervix with a special magnifying instrument. Sometimes during the colposcopy, a small piece of tissue (a biopsy) is taken for examination under a microscope. If abnormal cells are confirmed after this examination a repeat testing schedule for monitoring will be recommended  or the doctor may recommend treatment.  

Treatment for abnormalities to the cells on the surface of the cervix

Treatment usually involves a laser being applied to the abnormal cells. This can usually be done using local anaesthetic and will not involve an overnight stay in hospital. This laser treatment will prevent the development of cervical cancer in nearly all women. It’s very safe and should not affect your ability to have children in the future. 

When can I have sex again?

There is no reason to avoid sex if you have an abnormal Pap smear test. If you are having treatment to your cervix, your doctor will tell you if you need to avoid sex until healing occurs.

Do I need to use condoms with my current partner?

If you have had unprotected sex with a current partner before you were diagnosed with genital HPV, there is a high chance you have both become infected even though only one of you may have symptoms, such as genital warts. You should use condoms with any new partner to reduce their risk of acquiring HPV infection from you.

Disclaimer 

This website provides general information only. The suitability of such general information  varies  from   person  to   person,  depending  on individual circumstances.   You should seek specific medical or legal advice for your individual circumstances.

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Last updated: 5 June 2016

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