All your cervical screening questions answered

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV is the virus that causes most abnormal cervical cell changes and cervical cancers. Many people will have HPV and never know, as there are usually no symptoms.

There are many types of HPV and most are cleared by the body within one to two years.

If the body does not clear HPV, it can cause abnormal cervical cell changes. If left undetected and/or untreated, these changes can develop into cervical cancer.

When do I need a Cervical Screening Test?

You should have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.

Depending on your test results, you may be recommended to return to screen earlier.  It is important that you attend all follow-up as recommended. If you have a cervical abnormality that is not monitored, and/or treated, it may progress to cervical cancer.

If you are unsure when you are due to screen, check with your healthcare provider or contact the NCSR.

Where can I go for a Cervical Screening Test?

Most general practices offer cervical screening. There are also several healthcare providers that specialise in women’s health and sexual health. It is important to find a healthcare provider you trust at a service where you feel comfortable. You can request a female healthcare provider when you make your appointment. Some services offer bulk billed appointments. Ask about any costs when you make your appointment.

  • GP surgery
  • Local Medical Centre
  • Aboriginal Health Service
  • Women’s Health Centre
  • Community Health Centre

Visit Where can I have a Cervical Screening Test? on Healthy WA to find one that meets your needs.

Who should have cervical screening?

All women and people with a cervix aged 25-74 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 in a long time
  • have only ever had one sexual partner
  • have an intellectual and/or physical disability
  • only have sex with women
  • are transgender, gender diverse or non-binary and have a cervix

A Cervical Screening Test is for those who are well without any unusual signs or symptoms. If you have any symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding or discharge, you should see your GP as soon as possible.

Can I pick up a swab from the pharmacy and collect my own sample at home?

No. Both Cervical Screening Test options can only be accessed through a healthcare provider.

How do I know if collecting my own sample is safe, effective and accurate?

Recent evidence demonstrates a Cervical Screening Test using a self-collected vaginal sample is as accurate as a clinician-collected sample taken from the cervix during a speculum examination.  For more information on the evidence, click on Information for healthcare providers.

How will I know if I have collected my own sample correctly?

Your healthcare provider will explain how to do the test. View the four steps on how to collect your own sample to see how it’s done:

How to collect your own sample sheet

Are people who have had multiple sexual partners at greater risk of cervical cancer?

No. It’s important to remember that HPV is very common, and you only need to engage in sexual activity once to be exposed. The best way to reduce your risk of cervical cancer is with regular cervical screening.

Are there any signs and symptoms for cervical cancer?

In the early stages of cervical cancer there are often no signs or symptoms. This is why regular cervical screening is important.

Some people may experience:

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

If you have any of these symptoms it is important to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

I’ve been vaccinated for HPV, do I need cervical screening?

Even if you have received the HPV vaccine, if you are aged 25 to 74 and have a cervix, it’s still important that you have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.

While the HPV vaccine will protect you against several types of HPV, including the main types linked to cervical cancer, it does not protect against them all.

Taking part in regular cervical screening is your best protection against cervical cancer. Look after your health, make sure you’re up to date with your cervical screening.

Should I avoid cervical screening when I’m on my period?

Make sure that you book the test for a day when you are not on your period. This is so that the blood does not affect the results. It is also to make sure you are more comfortable.

What are the key HPV vaccine facts?
  • People aged 12-13 can receive the HPV vaccine free of charge at school
  • The HPV vaccine currently used is called Gardasil®9
  • The vaccine protects against the most common types of HPV linked to cervical cancer
  • The vaccine provides best protection when it is given to someone before they become sexually active
  • HPV can affect everyone, not just females

Visit HPV vaccination on Healthy WA for more information.

I am feeling nervous about having a Cervical Screening Test, what can I do?

People can often feel anxious or nervous about having a Cervical Screening Test, 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.

When you are ready to have the test, there are some things you can do to make it more comfortable:

  • You can bring a support person with you to your appointment.
  • Wear clothes that are easy to remove from your lower body.  A dress or a skirt can be a good idea.
  • A sheet will be provided to you so that you can cover your lower body.
  • Take slow deep breaths to try and relax your body.

Remember the Cervical Screening Test should not be painful. You can ask your healthcare provider to stop at any time during the procedure.

Why is the term ‘women and people with a cervix’ used?

In most instances, we use the terms ‘women’ and ‘men’ because they are the simplest terms to use when talking about health and are easily understood by the general population. However, we also recognise that Australia is made up of a diverse group of individuals, so in some programs we do use language with gender diverse terminology. In these instances, we generally add other gender identities as additions to, not replacements of, those terms.

For example, the National Cervical Screening Program uses ‘women and people with a cervix’ when referring to cervical screening gender eligibility. This terminology aims to reach as many people as possible to encourage them to have regular, life-saving cervical screening. This includes those who identify as women and other gender diverse people with a cervix. This approach also acknowledges that not all women have cervixes (e.g., due to hysterectomy).

Our main goal is to make sure that everyone who is eligible for cervical screening is aware of the importance of regular screening because cancer screening saves lives.