Cervical Screening Tests (CST) replaced the Pap Smear in 2017. CST detects the presence of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). 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 your cervix. If these cell changes are not identified early and treated they can lead to cervical cancer.
The cervical screening test looks for HPV which can lead to those cell changes. The test is done every 5 years, if your results are normal.
You should have the test if:
Any GP, and some nurses can perform a CST. It is done using either a metal or plastic speculum that is inserted into your vagina. Two samples are taken from your cervix. The speculum is then removed, and your samples are sent off for testing.
You may have to return to the GP to get your results, or they may be able to tell you over the phone. It can take around 2-3 weeks to get your results back.
Depending on your results, the GP may book you in for another appointment, refer you to a specialist, or just set a reminder for another CST in 5 years' time.
From July 2022, all eligible screeners, people aged 25-74 years with a cervix, can now self-collect samples. A healthcare professional will provide a swab for you to collect a sample from inside your vagina which can be done in a private space like a bathroom or behind a curtain quite quickly. Like with the method where a healthcare professional collects it, a self-collected sample is fully covered by medicare.
All children in Australia aged 12-13 receive the HPV vaccine as part of the National Immunisation Program. The vaccine protects against high-risk HPV types, which cause 70% of cervical cancers. It also protects against two low-risk HPV types which cause 90% of genital warts. Because the vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV that may cause cervical cancers, it is still important for vaccinated people to have regular cervical screening tests.
If you're over 20 or are not able to access the school-based vaccine program, you can have the vaccination at a cost from a GP or local immunisation provider.
Find out more about the HPV vaccine here.