The main points

  • Currently those aged over 25 years who have ever had sex with a partner of any gender are advised to have cervical screening.
  • Cervical screening involves looking directly for the types of genital HPV.
  • Testing will usually be every five years.
  • If your cervical screening test shows abnormalities, you need careful follow-up. 

Cervical screening (previously known as pap smear tests, or pap tests), is for those aged 25 years and over who have ever had sex with a partner, of any gender.  The test is repeated every five years until 74 years of age.

Cervical screening looks directly for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common genital infection. 

HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. 

Cervical screening detects cervical cancer

Cervical cancer can be largely prevented through regular cervical screening. Most of those diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had regular cervical screening. 

The main cause of cervical cancer is HPV. There are a number of different types of HPV and it is estimated that around 80% of those who are sexually active will be infected with at least one of these types during their life.

HPV infections usually don’t cause symptoms and nearly everybody infected clears the virus without treatment. In a small percentage of those infected, the virus stays on and can cause changes to the cervix that if left can become cancerous over many years. If these changes are picked up by cervical screening, there is very effective treatment that prevents cancer.

Pap smear tests have changed

The National Cervical Screening Program has recently changed and now recommends that those between the ages of 25 – 74 years, who have ever been sexually active, have a five-yearly test for HPV.

This includes those who have been vaccinated against HPV. A vaccine against HPV has been available in Australia since 2007. However, it does not prevent all types of genital HPV infections. For more information about the HPV vaccine, please visit HPV Vaccine

The HPV test will feel the same as having a pap smear test. It is a procedure that involves a doctor or nurse using special equipment (a tiny brush) to obtain a sample from the cervix at the top of the vagina.

The Pap Smear test looked for changes to the cervix. The HPV test looks for the virus that causes the changes and is a much more accurate test. If the virus is detected, the same test sample can be checked for changes to the cervix.

For more information about HPV tests, please visit  Cancer Council Victoria

How often do I need a cervical screening (pap smear) test?

Once you start, you need to keep having cervical screening every five years, even if: 

  • you've had the cervical cancer vaccine
  • you've only been sexually active once
  • you've only had one sexual partner
  • you're no longer sexually active
  • you're a lesbian
  • you've gone through menopause.

Those who have never been sexually active don't need to have cervical screening.

Last updated: 26 February 2018

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