Routine cervical screening now commences at 25 years of age under the renewed National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP), or two years after the last Pap test.
If you have previously had a Pap test with a normal result:
- before 23 years old, you should get screened at the age of 25.
- at 23 years or above, you should get screened two years after your last Pap test.
If you have not previously had a Pap test, even if you are sexually active, it is safe to commence screening at 25 years of age.
If you received an abnormal test result for your last Pap or Cervical Screening Test, continue to follow your healthcare provider’s advice.
It is important to remember that if at any age you experience symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge, or pain during sex, you should speak directly with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Why has the test changed?
The new Cervical Screening Test looks for human papillomavirus (HPV) whereas the Pap test used to look for cell changes in the cervix.
HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to cells in the cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer. By detecting a HPV infection, healthcare providers can monitor their patients earlier, and intervene if the infection does cause changes to cells in the cervix.
The Cervical Screening Test is expected to further reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates by up to 30% when compared to the Pap test.
In 2014 the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) recommended that the NCSP adopt HPV testing for cervical screening starting at 25 years of age at 5-yearly intervals. This recommendation aligns with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Starting screening at age 25 will reduce the investigation and treatment of common cervical abnormalities that would usually resolve by themselves in women under the age of 25. Cervical cancer in women under 25 years of age is rare, and routine screening has not changed the rates of incidence or death from cervical cancer in this age group in Australia since the beginning of NCSP in 1991.
A Cervical Screening Test every 5 years is just as safe as screening with a Pap Test every 2 years. We know that over 92% of cervical cancers are caused by a HPV infection which doesn’t clear up. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for a persistent HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer.
How regularly should I be getting tested?
Once you have had your first Cervical Screening Test, you’ll only need to have one every 5 years (if your results are normal, meaning you do not have HPV).
If your test shows you have HPV, you should follow your healthcare provider’s advice.
I’ve been vaccinated, should I still get screened?
Yes. Even if you are vaccinated against HPV you need to have regular cervical screening, because the HPV vaccination does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.
Do I need to start screening before 25 if I haven’t had the HPV vaccine?
Even if you haven’t had the vaccine it is safe to start routine cervical screening at the age of 25.
How are the two tests different?
The way the Cervical Screening Test is done is the same as the Pap test. Cells are collected from your cervix by your healthcare provider and the sample is tested in a pathology laboratory. The Pap test looked for actual cell changes in the cervix, whereas the new Cervical Screening Test detects infection with HPV, a common virus that can cause cervical cell abnormalities that, in rare cases, may develop over time into cervical cancer. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for a persistent HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer. By detecting a HPV infection, it allows your healthcare provider to monitor the infection and intervene early if there are any changes to cells in your cervix.
Can I choose to do the test before I turn 25?
It is recommended to have your first Cervical Screening Test at the age of 25. The Cervical Screening Test is not covered by Medicare for people under 24 years and nine months.
Can I have the test during pregnancy? How soon after the pregnancy can I get tested?
You can be safely screened at any time during or after pregnancy.
Can I still have the Pap test until I’m 25?
The Cervical Screening Test has replaced the Pap test. Pap tests are no longer covered by Medicare.
How do you diagnose cervical cancer in women under 25?
Cervical cancer in women under 25 is rare and the types of cervical cancers that can occur in young women are very difficult to detect through routine screening with either the Pap test or the Cervical Screening Test. Some symptoms of cervical cancer include unusual and persistent vaginal bleeding and discharge, and/or pain during sex. If a woman experiences these symptoms, she should speak with her healthcare provider. A healthcare provider will conduct a diagnostic investigation of symptoms and check for cervical cancer.
If at any age, you experience these symptoms you should speak with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
I’ve a family history of cervical cancer. Should I get tested before I turn 25?
If you have any concerns about your family history speak to your healthcare provider.
I’ve had an abnormal test result before, what should I do?
If you have had an abnormal test result, continue to follow your healthcare provider’s advice.
I’ve been sexually active for a while, should I get tested before I turn 25?
If you became sexually active before the age of 14 and before receiving the HPV vaccination you should seek advice from your healthcare provider about when you should have your first Cervical Screening Test.
What does a Cervical Screening Test cost?
In most cases, there will be a Medicare rebate for the Cervical Screening Test.
Ask your healthcare provider if they can bulk bill your appointment or if there are any additional costs.
There may be a fee for your appointment depending on your healthcare provider and the test ordered.