Who should have a Cervical Screening Test?

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  • About Cervical Cancer and its causes
  • Where to have my Cervical Screening Test?
  • I'm under 25
  • I'm between 25 and 74
  • My first Cervical Screening Test - what to expect
  • Self-collection
  • Further Information for women and men
  • Health Professionals
  • What is the Cervical Screening Test?

    The Cervical Screening Test (CST) has replaced the Pap test as the screening test to prevent cervical cancer. The CST looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to the cells in your cervix, that may develop into cervical cancer if left untreated.

    It can take up to 10-15 years for cervical cancer to develop. Long-term HPV infection causes the cell changes that lead to cervical cancer.

    If at any time you have symptoms, such as pain, unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding or recent persistent unusual changes, you should see your doctor or healthcare provider straight away.

    Who should have a Cervical Screening Test?

    You should make an appointment for a CST if you are aged between 25 and 74, have ever been sexually active, and

    • you have never had a Pap test or CST;
    • it has been two or more years since your last Pap test; or
    • your doctor recommends you have the CST.

    If HPV is not detected in your CST, your next CST will be due in five years.

    If your aged between 70 and 74, and are due or overdue for your CST, you can have an 'exit' test.  If this test is ‘normal’, you can safely stop cervical screening.

    The National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) will send you a reminder when your CST is due. Please contact the NCSR on 1800 627 701 to update your address and contact details.

    If at any time you have symptoms, such as pain, unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding or recent persistent unusual changes, you should see your doctor or healthcare provider straight away.

    For more information visit the following:

    Do I still need the CST if I have had the HPV vaccination?

    If you are aged 25-74 years and have ever been sexually active, you should have a CST.  Cervical screening is still recommended even after having the vaccine as the vaccine does not cover all types of HPV.

    The program recommends that all women aged between 25 and 74 years have a CST every five years after their first CST.

    If your last Pap test was 'normal', your first CST is due two years after your last Pap test.

    What if I have symptoms?

    If you have symptoms such as unusual vaginal bleeding, pain or discharge, you should see a doctor. It does not matter how old you are, or how long it has been since your last CST.

    Why is screening every five years?

    Research has shown that five years is a safe interval between screening tests. The CST looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cell changes in the cervix.

    If HPV is not detected in your CST, you have a low risk of developing cervical changes before your next CST. It usually takes 10-15 years for cervical cancer to develop as a result of a HPV infection that does not clear up.

    In most cases the body’s immune system will clear the HPV infection within 1- 2 years, but if it persists, it will be found at your next CST.

    Why has the starting age for cervical screening changed from 18 to 25?

    The age that women should begin cervical screening has changed. The basis for this decision is high-level international evidence. The research shows:

    • cervical cancer is very rare in women younger than 25;
    • while HPV is very common in women of this age group, the body usually clears it within 1-2 years;
    • HPV that is not cleared by the body usually takes 10-15 years to develop into cervical cancer; and
    • there are some risks with treating abnormalities in the cervix in young women. These include the chance of pregnancy complications later in life.

    Remember: If at any time you have symptoms, such as pain, unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding or recent persistent unusual changes, you should see your doctor or healthcare provider straightaway.

    How is the CST different to the Pap test?

    The method of sample collection for the CST is the same as the Pap test. If you have had a Pap test before, you will not notice any difference at your screening appointment. The difference is in the sample testing.

    A Pap test (or Pap smear) looked for cells in the cervix that had changed or become abnormal. The CST looks for HPV. This is the virus infection that causes these cell changes. Finding the virus means doctors can identify women who could be at risk of developing cervical cancer in the future.

    The presence of HPV will prompt scientists to look for cell changes in that sample. Women will get follow up treatment based on the results of both tests.

    What does the test cost?

    There are two costs involved in having a CST:

    • the doctor’s consultation cost and
    • the cost of the laboratory test.

    A Medicare rebate is available for both of these costs. Some doctor practices and pathology laboratories 'bulk bill'. This means there are no out of pocket expenses to you.

    The cost of the doctor’s consultation will depend on the general practice or health centre. You can ask what the cost will be when you make your appointment.