WHAT IS THE CERVICAL SCREENING TEST?
The Cervical Screening Test (CST) aims to prevent cancer of the cervix (also called cervical cancer). Cervical cancer is preventable with regular cervical screening because pre-cancerous changes can be found and easily treated, so cancer does not develop. Most people who get cervical cancer have either never had cervical screening or have had screening less often then recommended. Cervical screening saves lives!
WHAT IS THE CERVIX AND WHERE IS IT?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) and is located at the top of the vagina.
WHAT DOES THE CST TEST FOR?
It tests for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and has replaced the two-yearly Pap test. We now know that HPV causes over 99% of cervical cancer by causing changes in the cells of the cervix. The Cervical Screening Test is a significantly better test than the Pap test and should reduce the rate of cancer of the cervix by 30%.
WHAT IS HPV?
HPV is a large group of viruses that commonly affect humans. Most HPV types are harmless; however, 14 HPV types can cause cell changes that, if left untreated, may progress to cancer over a long time.
HOW DO YOU GET HPV?
You get HPV through sexual activity. HPV is very common, and almost everyone who has ever had sex is exposed to it. You do not need to have had sexual intercourse to become infected with HPV; this can also occur through close genital skin-to-skin contact. The majority of people clear most HPV types themselves without needing any treatment.
WHO SHOULD HAVE A CERVICAL SCREENING TEST?
Anyone with a cervix aged between 25 and 74 years and who has ever been sexually active should have a regular Cervical Screening Test.
- If you have only ever had one sexual partner in your life.
- If you are no longer sexually active.
- If you are post-menopause.
- If you identify as lesbian, transgender, intersex, non-binary, or queer.
- If you are pregnant.
- If you have had a baby.
- If you have had the HPV vaccine (the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types)
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A CERVICAL SCREENING TEST?
The new test will feel the same as having a Pap test. The nurse or doctor will talk with you first, ask you some questions about your health, and explain the test. They will then invite you to take off your clothes from the waist down, including underwear, and ask you to lie down on an examination bed.
You can leave your top on, and you should be offered a sheet to cover up if you want it. The nurse or doctor will then gently insert a small instrument called a speculum into the vagina so that they can see the cervix. They will use a soft brush to collect cells from the cervix and the sample is placed into a container. The test should only take about 5 to 10 minutes. The nurse or doctor will send the sample to the lab to check for HPV. If HPV is detected the lab will do another test on the same sample to look for any cell changes.
WHAT IF I AM WORRIED, FRIGHTENED, OR EMBARRESSED ABOUT HAVING THE TEST?
The Cervical Screening Test is a simple and quick procedure. If you have never had a Pap smear or Cervical Screening Test, ask your doctor or nurse to explain what will happen and to show you the speculum.
If you are anxious or concerned about having the procedure, consider calling us or making an appointment to discuss your concerns first.Remember that the nurses at Sexual Health & Family Planning ACT are specially trained and highly experienced in cervical screening, do these tests all the time, and work to make the experience a safe and positive one for you.
WHAT DO MY TEST RESULTS MEAN?
Cervical Screening Test results include low-risk, intermediate-risk, and higher-risk.
- Low Risk: If no HPV is detected, you are at low risk of developing any abnormality and do not need another test for five years. If you have any symptoms (such as bleeding after sex or between periods) before your next test is due, you should always see a doctor.
- Intermediate Risk: If your test result shows HPV types (not 16 or 18) and the cells are normal, you will need to return for another HPV test in 12 months. Most people will clear the virus in this time. If the virus is still present on your second test, you will be asked to come back in another year.
- Higher Risk: If your test result shows HPV type 16 or 18, or other HPV types but the cells are quite abnormal, this means that you are at higher risk of developing an abnormality. You will need to return to see a doctor and be referred to a gynaecologist for further investigation.
WHAT IF I AM UNDER 25?
If you are under 25 and have already had a normal Pap smear in the past, then you do not need to have a Cervical Screening Test until you turn 25. If you are under 25 and have not yet had a Pap test, you will be invited to participate in the program when you turn 25.
IS IT SAFE FOR ME TO WAIT UNTIL 25 FOR MY FIRST TEST?
Yes, it is safe because:
- Cervical cancer is very rare in people under 25.
- Most young people will clear the virus themselves.
- Most young people are protected by the HPV vaccine, which reduces the risk of any abnormalities developing.
- Cervical screening did not make a difference in detecting cervical cancers under the age of 25.
- Young people were at risk of unnecessary treatment in the old cervical screening program.
If you did not receive the HPV vaccine and had any sexual activity before 14 years of age, you can ask your doctor or nurse about having a Cervical Screening Test at an earlier age.
WHAT IF I AM 75 OR OLDER?
If you had your last CST between the age of 70-74 and it was normal, you can stop cervical screening. However, you can continue to screen every five years from 75 if you would prefer to.
CAN I DO THE TEST MYSELF?
A self-collected Cervical Screening Test is possible for people who are at least 30 years old and have never had a test, or who are at least two years overdue for a test. You will still need to see a doctor or nurse in a clinic to have this. There are several ‘self-testing’ home-based kits being advertised in Australia which are not part of the National Cervical Screening Program. These are not approved and should not be used. For more information about self-testing talk to your doctor or nurse.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN MY CERVICAL SCREENING TEST IS DUE?
The National Cancer Screening Register keeps all cervical screening results. They will send you a reminder in the mail when your next test is due and a second reminder if you do not attend for screening on time.
The clinic where you have your Cervical Screening Tests done may also send you a reminder.
WHAT IF I HAVE SYMPTOMS?
Please remember that the routine Cervical Screening Tests are for people without symptoms.
If you have any symptoms such as bleeding after sex, bleeding between your periods, bleeding after menopause, pelvic pain or pain with sex, these need to be investigated and you will need to see a doctor.
The National Cervical Screening Program reduces illness and death from cervical cancer. Women aged 25 to 74 years of age are invited to have a cervical screening test every 5 years.