Yes, it's that easy
Prevention is in your hands
If you are eligible and want to collect your own sample, your healthcare provider will give you a swab and instructions.
A self-collected sample is taken from the vagina so you don’t need to worry about reaching the cervix or ‘getting the right spot’. All you need to do is insert a swab a few centimetres into your vagina and rotate it for 20 to 30 seconds.
You will be given a private space, such as a bathroom, to collect your sample.
View the detailed instructions.
There are just a few steps to collect your own cervical screening test sample
Collecting your own sample is safe and accurate
Your healthcare provider will explain how to take your own sample and you can ask them for help and advice anytime
They can give you advice without looking and if you make a mistake that's okay you can ask to start again
Have a look at the self collection swap it might not look exactly like this one but you should see one end that you can hold and another end for taking the sample
Don't open it just yet
When you've been given a private space to do the test find a comfortable spot and pull down or take off your underwear
Twist the cap and remove the swab from the packaging
Be careful to only hold it by the cap and don't put it down on anything
If you accidentally drop it or the swab touches something you can ask for another one
The swab has a line or a mark to show you how far to insert it
Gently insert the swab into your vagina a few centimeters up to the line
Rotate it gently for 10 to 30 seconds this might be a bit uncomfortable but it shouldn't hurt
Remove the swab replace it in the packaging and seal the whole thing up and that's it.
Get dressed and then return the self-collection swab to your healthcare provider
You can talk to them about what happens next and how you'll get your results
Cara, 36, self-collected her Cervical Screening Test sample
Cara, aged 36, attended her GP for a routine appointment. During that appointment, her doctor talked to her about cervical screening. After explaining the purpose and importance of regular screening, her GP asked Cara whether she would be comfortable using the self-collection method to take a sample.
‘I didn’t even realise it was an option to do it myself, until my doctor offered it as a choice. He explained the process to me in a really clear, no fuss way. This made me feel really confident to self-collect’.
Cara’s doctor provided her with clear instructions and gave her a private space to take her own sample.
‘I was able to use a private space and lock the door and didn’t feel rushed at all. I really appreciated how comfortable I was made to feel. It was actually quite empowering.’
The self-collection process was quick and easy for Cara.
‘Because my doctor was so reassuring about my ability to self-collect, and the quality of the results that will come back, I found the whole experience really positive. I will definitely choose to self-collect again.’
Yes, it’s accurate
Evidence shows a Cervical Screening Test using a self-collected sample from your vagina is just as accurate at detecting HPV as a clinician-collected sample taken from the cervix during a speculum examination.
Who is eligible for self-collection?
Self-collection is available to all people eligible for a Cervical Screening Test – that is people who:
- are aged between 25 and 74
- have had any type of sexual contact
- are a woman / person with a cervix
- are due or overdue for routine cervical screening
When due, you should get a Cervical Screening Test even if you:
- have had the HPV vaccine
- are not currently or are no longer sexually active
- have had the same partner for a long time or only had one partner
- are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,
- are transgender or non-binary with a cervix
- are pregnant
- have had a baby
- have been through menopause
- feel healthy and have no symptoms.
Because self-collection looks for HPV only – not cervical cell abnormalities – it is generally not appropriate for people who have symptoms of cervical cancer or if you are experiencing unusual bleeding, pain or discharge.
You should speak to your doctor about whether self-collect is the right option for you.
Cervical screening could save your life
About 800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Australia each year, and about 70% of these cases occur in women who have never screened or were not up-to-date with their screening.
Having regular screening tests is the best way to protect yourself.
If someone you love is eligible and has never screened or hasn’t screened for some time, encourage them to do their cervical screening.
How to book
Cervical screening – including self-collection – is facilitated by a doctor, nurse or health worker with a rebate for the test provided through Medicare.
Contact your GP or healthcare provider to check if you're due or overdue for a Cervical Screening Test. If you’re due, make a booking with them.
If you don’t have a preferred healthcare provider, health direct can help you find a healthcare provider to book your test with.
The National Cancer Screening Register sends invitation and reminder letters to participants who are due for cervical screening and other follow-up tests. You can view and manage your personal information on the Register (including finding out when you are next due for cervical screening) through the Participant Portal. The Participant Portal is available through myGov at my.gov.au – just link your account to the Register. You can also call the Register on 1800 627 701.
Wiradjuri grandmother Marcia talks about taking her own sample
When she arrived for her appointment as her local Aboriginal Medical Clinic, a nurse showed her behind a screen, and Marcia took it from there.
‘After I made the choice, the only thing that worried me was that I wouldn’t do it properly,’ she recalls. ‘But the instructions were very clear and easy to follow, so that made me feel better about it.
‘I’d say it was much quicker and more comfortable than doing the old Pap test, and I liked that I could do it in private.’
Marcia wants others to know how important it is to do the test, for yourself and your family.
‘I’m glad I’ve done the test. It’s really important to me to show my daughters and their babies that we have access to choices that can prevent disease, and we should take them,’ she reflects.
‘My mother’s generation didn’t talk about this stuff much. I want to reverse that trend and be open about women’s health, especially with my daughters. They’re proud that I want to take care of myself and be fit and healthy into the future. And I want to be around to see my grandbabies grow up and be happy and healthy.’
Some FAQs about self-collection
How do I do a self-collected Cervical Screening Test
You should speak to your healthcare provider about your cervical screening options. If you decide collecting your own sample is the best option for you, your healthcare provider will give you a swab and instructions on how to collect your sample. If you don’t have a preferred healthcare provider, you can visit the health direct website to help you find one.
Do I have to do self-collect? Can I still have the doctor collect my sample?
Self-collection is an option. You can choose either self-collection or clinician-collection for your Cervical Screening Test.
You can continue to have your Cervical Screening Test done by your chosen healthcare provider using a speculum examination.
If you think you may have difficulty collecting a vaginal sample by yourself and would prefer a sample be collected without the use of a speculum, you can also ask your healthcare provider to help you do a self-collected Cervical Screening Test.
Why is a doctor still involved in the process if it’s self-collected?
Healthcare providers play a critical role in supporting patients with cervical screening, including for self-collection.
If you choose self-collection you will be given a private space to collect the sample, for example behind a curtain or in a bathroom.
Having a healthcare provider involved in the process is important because they can:
- explain how to collect the sample
- give you support or help in collecting the sample (if you need and want it)
- organise and explain your results
- support you with any follow-up appointments you may need
- answer any questions you may have
How do I know I am getting the right spot/my cervix?
The Cervical Screening Test detects HPV before it has the chance to develop into abnormal or cancerous cells. HPV can be detected from inside the vagina, so there is no need to access the cervix.
Your healthcare provider can give you the support you need to make sure the test is performed correctly.
What happens if my self-collected test comes back positive for HPV?
If HPV is found in your self-collected Cervical Screening Test results, your healthcare provider will recommend you return so they can investigate further.
Will self-collection kits be mailed out to everyone?
No. The National Cervical Screening Program is not delivering a home mail-out program at this time. Self-collection must be ordered and overseen by a healthcare provider. This means you still require a consultation with a healthcare provider (for example a GP) to receive the self-collection test.
Cervical Cancer Awareness Video
Hey, I'm Sarah Marie Cameron, a comedian, presenter and ambassador for the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation. We know how important cervical screenings can be, but unfortunately a lot of people aren't up to date with them, or they might find them too confronting. But the great news is there's now self-collection, and it's so easy to book at your local clinic as well. So please make sure that you and your loved ones are up to date with your cervical screening. What can people expect when they're coming for a cervical screening? That's a really good question. So, the appointment will start with the clinician just asking you some questions. They will wanna know a little bit about your history so they might ask some questions about your sexual health, a bit of information about your periods. Speaking of questions, people would come in here with plenty of questions. What are the most common ones? So, there are a couple of really common questions. A lot of people seem to be really interested at the moment about the self-collect option. The self-collect option is just as effective as the clinician collected sample at detecting HPV. Patients seem to be really concerned about how prepared they are as far as whether they've shaved or waxed or whether things are normal down there. So, I find that it's really helpful to just reassure people that we are all different and there's so many versions of normal, and there's no judgement about anything going on. We're just there to get the screening test done for you. I'll show you with our model here, so you'll be given this swap and you'll be able to go into a private space whether that's behind the curtain or into the bathroom. Each health setting will vary, but you'll get this swab, and you'll take it out of the tube there. You can see that little red mark that's roughly where we want it to be inserted to. But you don't have to go all the way, and you just want to gently insert the swab into the vagina and then just rotating it very gently. A couple of times, usually four or five times is good about 10 seconds and then just removing the swab and popping it back into our tube there and then you'll give the swab back to your health practitioner, and then they deal with the rest. And what are you actually screening for? So, we're looking for the human papilloma virus, which is the virus that causes almost all cervical cancer and precancerous abnormalities. If we don't find it, you're good for five years. But if we do find HPV, we then need other tests. What happens when someone receives a positive test? So, if we detect HPV depending on the type you may need to just make an appointment for colposcopy and be seen by a specialist. But more commonly, what we need to do is we need to look at the cells from the cervix, and what we're doing in the lab is we're looking at those cells down the microscope to see if there are abnormalities that might indicate a precancerous, um, a lesion that could turn into cancer. If we've had the HPV vaccination, how come we still have to have this screening done? People who are at least 25 have a cervix are eligible for screening, and 25-year-olds all received the four valent vaccine that protects against the types that cause 70% of cancer. Um, unfortunately, that does while it's great, it does mean that there's the 30% left who are not protected, and that's why we need ongoing participation in the screening program. Is there any difference between the swabs taken, say, from a clinician versus now self-collection? So, for accuracy, the really good news is that there is no difference. So, whether you take your own sample from the vagina, or a nurse or doctor takes a sample from the cervix, the detection of HPV and in fact leading to the detection of precancer is just as accurate. Have we seen an increase to screening since that's been introduced? The number of self-collected tests since the policy was changed on the first of July has exploded, um, off what was a very, very small base. So, we're very optimistic that that's gonna translate into increased participation rates, and I would hope improved equity. We'd like to see everyone having a fair shot at having this cancer prevented. So that's really fantastic, being the first country in the world to have a self-collect system and to make it available for women.