Download a copy of the Colposcopy and Treatment Form for the National Cervical Screening Program. You can also order pads of the Colposcopy & Treatment Forms from the Publications and Resources section of this website at no cost.
What do the changes mean for healthcare providers?
How can I get across the changes?
Ordering the Cervical Screening Test
Symptomatic women / when to order a co-test
The screening pathway
The National Cancer Screening Register Rules 2017
More Information for healthcare providers
Toolkit for engaging under-screened and never-screened women
Why has the program changed?Australia’s National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) was revised on 1 December 2017 based on recommendations by the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC). The National Cervical Screening Program: Guidelines for the management of screen-detected abnormalities, screening in specific populations and investigation of abnormal vaginal bleeding (2016 Guidelines) have been updated to reflect the recommendations.
The Cervical Screening Test has replaced the Pap test. The Cervical Screening Test detects infection with human papillomavirus (known as HPV).
MSAC also advised that:
- a HPV test with partial genotyping should be undertaken every five years
- cervical screening should commence from 25 years of age
- people should have a Cervical Screening Test between 70 and 74 years of age
- people with symptoms (including unusual or persistent vaginal bleeding (post-coital, unexplained inter-menstrual or any post-menopausal), discharge (offensive and/or blood stained) or deep persistent dyspareunia) can have a cervical test at any age.
Because Australia has an effective national vaccine program, the prevalence of HPV in young people aged 18 to 24 is very low.
If you require further information on the program please call 13 15 56.
What do the changes mean for healthcare providers?
Patient reminder and recall systemsHealthcare providers will need to update their practice patient reminder and recall systems in line with the new pathways and screening intervals.
Changes to the Cervical Screening TestHealthcare providers will still perform an examination using a vaginal speculum and take a sample, but the sample medium is liquid-based and will be tested for the presence of HPV. For the participant, if they have ever had a Pap test before, the way the test is done will feel the same.
For your patients that may have refused to screen, an alternate method of self-collection is available but patients must meet the eligibility criteria; be over 30 years of age and be at least two years overdue for their screening test.
Please visit the Publications and resources section of this website to download further information.
Changes to MBS itemsThe Pap test is no longer covered under the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and will be replaced with the Cervical and Vaginal Testing and accompanying MBS item numbers. Healthcare providers will need to know the differences between the MBS items and provide as much information on the pathology request form as possible. This will avoid the wrong pathology test being performed on the sample and may result in the patient being charged incorrectly for a test.
From 1 December 2017, healthcare providers should not write Pap test or smear on the pathology request form, otherwise their patient will be charged. To assist with completing the pathology request please refer to the Pathology test guide for Cervical and Vaginal testing.
How can I get across the changes?
How do I transition my patients under 25 years of age from the Pap test program to the current program?
Patients under 25 years of age who have previously had a Pap test and are not currently under clinical management for a cervical abnormality are due either:
- when they turn 25 years of age
- after they turn 25 years of age, once it has been two years since their last Pap test
- All women including those under 25 years of age who are currently under clinical management for a cervical abnormality should continue to be managed according to the recommendations on transitioning individuals in the 2016 Guidelines
Information pack for healthcare providersAn information pack is available for healthcare providers. It contains the essential information about the changes to the National Cervical Screening Program and materials which you can use to explain the changes to your patients.
You can order these resources from the Publications and resources section of our website at no cost.
Online training modulesOnline training modules to help you understand the Cervical Screening Test and the Clinical Pathways are available on the NPS MedicineWise website. This training will be recognised as continuing professional development hours with RACGP, ACRRM, ACN, ACM and APNA.
Training covers information about the changes to cervical screening, including:
- The difference between the Cervical Screening Test and the Pap test
- New results categories and clinical pathways
- Managing people transitioning to the new clinical pathway who have test results and are under clinical management
- Practical advice and videos to help you engage with patients from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and patients with an intellectual disability
See the online training modules.
Ordering the Cervical Screening TestYou need to fill in pathology request forms differently.
It is critical that you provide the pathology laboratory with the correct patient details, clinical presentation and any previous cervical screening history.
This ensures that the pathology laboratory conducts the right test(s), makes the correct clinical recommendations and selects the correct MBS item.
If this information is not provided, patients may be charged for the test, or have to return for a repeat examination.
You can find out how to correctly order the Cervical Screening Test using the Pathology Test Guide for Cervical and Vaginal Testing.
If you are unsure of your patient’s test history, you can call a member of the National Cancer Screening Register (the Register) Contact Centre team on 1800 627 701 or visit the Register's website.
Symptomatic women / when to order a co-testWomen with signs or symptoms suggestive of cervical cancer are tested and managed on a different clinical pathway to those who are asymptomatic. Women at any age with symptoms suggestive of cervical cancer require diagnostic testing (co-test and usually a gynaecological assessment) and not ‘cervical screening’.
A co-test is where the laboratory performs both the HPV test and the liquid-based cytology (LBC) test at the same time and on the same specimen. This means that the LBC test is performed irrespective of the HPV test result.
The following signs or symptoms can be suggestive of cervical cancer and require further investigation:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of cervical cancer and is covered in detail in the 2016 Guidelines. Briefly:
- Pre-menopausal women at any age with unexplained inter-menstrual bleeding require initial investigation with a co-test (HPV and LBC) and referral for gynaecological assessment.
- Pre-menopausal women at any age with a single episode of post-coital bleeding should be investigated with a co-test
- if the cervix is clinically normal and the co-test is negative, then she should be advised that no further investigation is necessary
- but if the post-coital bleeding recurs or is persistent, she should be referred for gynaecological assessment and colposcopy
- Post-menopausal women with any episode of vaginal bleeding (including post-coital) should be investigated with a co-test and referred for gynaecological assessment.
- Breakthrough or irregular bleeding due to hormonal contraception
- Contact bleeding at time of obtaining the cervical sample
- Heavy regular periods (menorrhagia)
- Vaginal discharge and/or deep dyspareunia are commonly due to benign gynaecological conditions and should be investigated appropriately and if necessary referred for gynaecological assessment. A routine Cervical Screening Test (CST), if indicated, is appropriate for these women.
- Unexplained persistent unusual vaginal discharge, especially if offensive and blood stained, may be associated with a cervical cancer and should be investigated by clinical examination of the cervix and a co-test (HPV and LBC).
- If the co-test is abnormal she should be referred for colposcopy.
- Even if the co-test is negative (no HPV detected and LBC normal), referral for gynaecological assessment should be considered.
- The investigation of unexplained persistent deep dyspareunia (in the absence of bleeding or discharge) should include a CST (if due) and referral for gynaecological assessment should be considered.
- Women at any age with abnormal vaginal bleeding (post coital, unexplained inter-menstrual or any post-menopausal bleeding) should have a co-test, and usually will be referred for a gynaecological assessment.
- Any woman with an unexplained persistent unusual vaginal discharge (especially if offensive and/or blood stained) should be investigated with a co-test, and subsequent referral for gynaecological assessment.
- Any woman with unexplained persistent deep dyspareunia, should have a CST, and subsequent referral for gynaecological assessment.
When requesting co-test for symptomatic women, write Co-test, symptomatic and clearly describe the symptoms on the Pathology Request Form.
For symptomatic women consider referral for gynaecological assessment and further investigation to exclude genital tract malignancy.
The Pathology Test Guide for Cervical and Vaginal Testing lists the new MBS items for the Cervical and Vaginal Testing and the types of information that healthcare providers will need to include when ordering pathologist reports. The Pathology Test Guide for Cervical and Vaginal Testing can be found under the Publications and Resources page.
Toolkit for engaging under-screened and never-screened womenThis toolkit has been developed to assist healthcare providers to engage under-screened and never-screened women in cervical screening, and to support them should they choose to participate.
The screening pathwayThe Cervical Screening Test and pathway is a risk-based approach to the management of HPV and cervical cancer, as recommended by the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC). Patients are managed according to their risk of developing significant cervical abnormalities within the next five years, which is determined by their Cervical Screening Test result.
The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate than cytology alone (i.e. Pap tests) as it detects the presence of HPV and the potential for progression to high-grade lesions earlier, thus preventing more cervical cancers. Screening using HPV testing has the potential to improve detection of adenocarcinoma and its precursors.
For clinician collected specimens, reflex LBC can be performed on the same cervical specimen (without requiring an additional request) and the pathology laboratory will issue the HPV test result, LBC test result and overall screening risk rating as a combined report. Self-collection of a vaginal sample can only be tested for HPV. A new pathology request will be required for the clinician-collected specimen for reflex LBC testing only. The pathology laboratory will then issue a combined report with the initial self-collect HPV test, LBC test result and overall screening risk rating as a combined report.
If any glandular abnormalities are detected on a screening test, healthcare providers should follow up according to the 2016 Guidelines.
There are four result categories:
- Return to screen in five years
- Repeat the HPV test in 12 months
- Refer to a specialist
- Unsatisfactory sample (HPV or LBC) retest within 6-12 weeks
1. Return to screen in five yearsThis result means oncogenic HPV was not detected. Patients with this result will be invited to screen again in five years.
These patients are at low risk of developing cervical cancer and can safely return for a Cervical Screening Test in five years.
We cannot assure patients that they are at ‘no risk’ because they may subsequently acquire an HPV infection or have a latent infection that becomes active.
2. Repeat the HPV test in 12 monthsThis result means an HPV infection was detected. It is not associated with high-grade cell changes that require treatment.
A reflex LBC conducted on the same sample showed that the patient has negative or possible low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (LSIL), or LSIL abnormal cervical cells.
These patients will be invited to return for a repeat HPV test in 12 months. This is to check if the body has cleared the HPV infection.
3. Refer to a specialist
This result means the patient has received one of two possible results:
- HPV is detected, but not types 16 or 18
A reflex LBC will be conducted on the same sample. If possible high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL) or HSIL on cytology has been detected, the patient should be recommended to a specialist to have a colposcopic assessment because they are at a higher risk of cervical cancer. A colposcopy will determine if a biopsy is needed and treatment is required.
- HPV types 16 or 18 have been detected
HPV types 16 and 18 are associated with approximately 70% of cervical cancers. These HPV types are more likely to progress to cervical cancer than other oncogenic HPV types. Regardless of the reflex LBC test result, the patient should be recommended to have a colposcopic assessment because they are at a higher risk of cervical cancer. The LBC will inform the colposcopic assessment.
4. Unsatisfactory sample (HPV or LBC) retest within 6-12 weeksThis result means the sample collected was unsatisfactory. If the HPV test was unsatisfactory, the patient should return with 6-12 weeks for a repeat HPV test. If the LBC test was unsatisfactory, the patient should return with 6-12 weeks for a repeat LBC test.
The four pathways are shown in the diagram below.
The National Cancer Screening Register Rules 2017The National Cancer Screening Register Rules 2017 (the Rules) prescribe the requirement for mandatory notification to the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer (CMO) under section 13 of the National Cancer Screening Register Act 2016 (the NCSR Act), including who is required to notify, the mandatory data sets and the timeframe for notification.
Colposcopists and pathology practitioners are required to notify prescribed cervical screening information to the CMO through the National Cancer Screening Register (the Register).
The Rules support notification of individuals’ screening test results, results of follow-up procedures, diagnosis (or clearance) of cancer and other relevant screening information to the Register and enable monitoring of NCSP program quality, safety and effectiveness.
More information on the Rules is provided below:
- Factsheet for Colposcopists
PDF version: Colposcopists Factsheet (PDF 356 KB)
Word version: Colposcopists Factsheet (Word 155 KB)
Data requirements for colposcopists
PDF version: Data requirements for Colposcopists (PDF 48 KB)
Word version: Data requirements for Colposcopists (Word 142 KB)
The Colposcopy and Treatment Form
Factsheet for Pathologists
PDF version: Pathologists Factsheet (PDF 435 KB)
Word version: Pathologists Factsheet (Word 161 KB)
Data requirements for Pathologists
PDF version: Data requirements for Pathologists (PDF 73 KB)
Word version: Data requirements for Pathologists (Word 153 KB)
More Information for healthcare providers
Healthcare provider and waiting room materialsIf your practice has TONIC managing the content within your waiting room, TONIC will display information on your digital screens, supply and manage the content in your brochure stands and, in some practices, will include translated brochures. You will still need to order the booklet- A Guide to Understanding your Cervical Screening Test results.
If your practice does not have TONIC managing your waiting room, you can order posters, brochures, booklets, factsheets and instruction sheets by visiting Publications and Resources. There will be no cost to you or your practice.