Treatments and tests

Cervical Screening Test

  • A Cervical Screening Test (CST) is a simple test used to check the health of your cervix.
  • A CST looks for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
  • HPV infections can cause abnormal cervical cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. This usually takes a long time, about 10 to 15 years.
  • Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.
  • In Australia, people are advised to have a CST every 5 years.

From 1 July 2022, there are two ways you can choose to have a Cervical Screening Test:

  • collecting your own sample (this is also called self-collection)
  • having a healthcare provider collect your sample.
Do I need cervical screening?

All women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 years who have ever had any sexual contact should have regular cervical screening.

This includes those who:

  • feel well and have no symptoms
  • are pregnant
  • have been vaccinated against HPV
  • are going through menopause
  • no longer have periods
  • have not had sexual contact for a long time
  • have only ever had one sexual partner
  • have an intellectual or physical disability
  • only have sex with women
  • are transgender, gender diverse or non-binary and have a cervix.

Cervical screening is for women and people with a cervix who are well without any unusual signs or symptoms.

See your healthcare provider immediately if at any age you have symptoms, such as:

  • vaginal bleeding after sex
  • bleeding between periods
  • vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • continual pain during sex.

If you are unsure of when you are due to screen, please speak with your healthcare provider or contact the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701.

What if I have had a hysterectomy?

People who have had a hysterectomy should discuss their need to screen with their healthcare provider. The need to continue with cervical screening for those without a uterus depends on the type of hysterectomy they had and the reason for the hysterectomy.

What if I have had the HPV vaccine?

Women and people with a cervix that have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine also need to participate in regular cervical screening. This is because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer.

Where can I have a Cervical Screening Test?

You can have a CST at your:

  • GP Practice
  • Sexual Health Clinic
  • Aboriginal Medical Service
  • Women’s Health Centre
  • Community Health Clinic.

Your CST can be taken by a GP, nurse, midwife or Aboriginal health practitioner, or you can choose to collect your own sample.

It is important to find a healthcare provider you trust, at a service where you feel comfortable. You can request a healthcare provider of the gender you prefer when you make your appointment.

When you have chosen a healthcare provider you feel comfortable with, call to make an appointment. Make sure you tell the receptionist the appointment is for a CST as you may need to book a longer appointment.

Find out more about where you can have a Cervical Screening Test.

Understanding the two options for a Cervical Screening Test (CST)

There are two options available for a CST.

You can:

  • collect your own sample (a sample collected from the vagina)
  • have a healthcare provider collect your sample (a sample collected from the cervix).

A self-collected sample is as effective as a clinician-collected sample in detecting HPV.

Having a healthcare provider collect your sample

Having a sample taken by a healthcare provider is similar to having a Pap smear.

When you arrive for your CST your healthcare provider will ask you some routine health questions. This is a good time for you to ask any questions about the test or your general health. If you are feeling worried or anxious, let your healthcare provider know.

You will be asked to undress in private from the waist down, given a sheet to cover yourself and asked to lay down on an examination table. The healthcare provider will gently insert a speculum into your vagina, so that they can see your cervix (the opening of the womb). Lubrication can be used to make the procedure more comfortable for you.

Once the speculum is in place and the cervix is clearly seen, the healthcare provider will use a small soft brush to collect a sample of cells from the cervix. The sample collected is then placed in a container of liquid, so that it can be examined by the laboratory. This only takes a few seconds and once this is done, the speculum is removed and the CST is complete.

A CST is a simple and safe procedure. Having a CST may be uncomfortable but should not hurt. If you feel uncomfortable during the examination or want the healthcare provider to stop, let them know.

Collecting your own sample

What does self-collection test for?

Self-­collection tests for human papillomavirus (HPV). A self-­collected sample is taken from the vagina (not the cervix). It can be tested for HPV only, as the sample does not contain cervical cells required for further testing. If HPV is found, further follow-­up is needed.

How do I collect my own sample?

Your healthcare provider will explain how to do the test and give you a sampling swab.

  • A private place within the healthcare setting will be provided for you to collect your sample.
  • Using the swab, you will collect a sample from the vagina.
  • Your healthcare provider will send the sample to the laboratory for testing.

Self­-collection test results

If no HPV is found, you will be recommended to return for cervical screening in 5 years. If HPV is found, further follow-­up is needed. This may include returning for a clinician­-collected sample to check for cervical cell changes, or referral to a specialist. It is important to attend all recommended follow­-up and specialist appointments. If you have any questions, talk with your healthcare provider.

See understanding your Cervical Screening Test results for further information.

What happens after the sample is taken?

The cervical cells that were collected and placed in the container of liquid are sent to a laboratory. The laboratory looks for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). If HPV is found, the same cervical sample is then re-tested to look for any abnormal cervical cells changes.

It usually takes 1 to 2 weeks for your healthcare provider to receive your results from the laboratory. It’s important to agree on a way of getting your results with your healthcare provider.

Find out more about Cervical Screening Test results.

What if I am feeling anxious about my Cervical Screening Test?

People can often feel anxious or nervous about having a CST, especially if it is their first time.

You may find it helpful to first meet with your healthcare provider to discuss any concerns you may have about the procedure or the results you might get.

You can bring a support person with you to your appointment.

How much does a Cervical Screening Test cost?

The Cervical Screening Test is free with the Medicare rebate, however your healthcare provider may charge a fee for the appointment.

Some healthcare providers bulk bill and if so, there is no cost to you.

When you are making your booking, ask if there is an appointment fee for having a Cervical Screening Test.

What are the recent changes to cervical screening in Australia?

From 1 July 2022, all National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) participants aged 25-74 years will have the choice to screen either by a self-collected vaginal sample or a clinician-collected sample from the cervix, accessed through a healthcare provider in both cases.

In December 2017, the two-yearly Pap smear was replaced by the five-yearly Cervical Screening Test. These changes are the result of a rigorous review of the latest medical research, scientific developments and evidence relating to cervical cancer. For more information visit the National Cervical Screening Program (external site).

Where to get help

Last reviewed: 04-07-2022

WA Cervical Cancer Prevention Program

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.