Understanding the Cervical Screening Test

Changes in the National Cervical Screening Program affect health professionals and service providers. Find out what these changes are and how they may impact your practice.

The Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap test in December 2017. The Cervical Screening Test detects infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that causes most cervical cancers.

Cervical cancer is a rare outcome of ongoing infection with certain types of HPV. It can take 10 to 15 years for an HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer.

Cervical screening can detect multiple HPV types, including the highest risk types HPV 16 and 18. HPV 16 and 18 have been linked to 70% to 80% of the cases in Australia.

Anyone eligible for a Cervical Screening Test has the choice to screen either through:

  • self-collection of a vaginal sample using a simple swab (unless a co-test is required)
  • clinician-collection of a sample from the cervix using a speculum.

The National Cervical Screening Policy recommends that people with a cervix:

  • have an HPV test with partial genotyping every 5 years
  • start cervical screening at age 25
  • have an exit test between 70 and 74 years of age
  • have an HPV test at any age if they have symptoms of cervical cancer, even if they screen regularly.

Read the clinical guidelines on the Cancer Council website.

Online training modules on the NPS MedicineWise website can help you understand the cervical screening test and clinical pathways.

Read the fact sheet and instructions that you can give your patients.

Last updated: 
1 July 2022

Help us improve health.gov.au

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.