Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

A self-test has made cervical screening even easier

Blog post | 04 Sep 2019

Women across Australia rejoiced when the 2-yearly Pap smear was replaced by the cervical screening test in late 2017.

For women with normal results, the cervical screening test is needed only every 5 years — and it's more effective than the Pap smear in preventing cervical cancers. The recommended age of the first test was also lifted from 18 (for the Pap smear) to 25 (for the cervical screening test), or 2 years after the last Pap smear.

The good news keeps coming.

Now, a self-collection method, recently added to the National Cervical Screening Program Guidelines, has made the cervical screening test even easier for some women.

You may be able to self-test for cervical cancer

While cervical screening tests are generally needed less frequently, many women still find them uncomfortable and embarrassing. Cue the self-test, or, ‘self-collection', method.

Instead of a health professional doing the test, eligible women are shown to a private area within the medical practice. There, they can take a sample from the vagina using a specially-designed swab that looks a bit like a cotton-wool bud. The swab helps detect any of the 14 types of human papillomavirus (HPV), known to cause 99% of cervical cancers.

"The test is simple, quick, and safe, and is as accurate as a test performed by the doctor or trained nurse," explains Dr Lara Roeske, Foundation Director of Education and Liaison at VCS Pathology and co-author of the renewed National Cervical Screening Program Guidelines.

Who is eligible for self-collection?

The cervical self-test is not available to everyone.

Patients who have declined a screening test by their health professional can be offered the self-collection method. You also need to be over 30 years of age and be overdue for your screening test.

About half of Australian women (55%) aged 20-69 participated in cervical screening in 2015-16.—Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

"We know that up to 90% of women who die from this preventable cancer are either not up to date with their screening, or have not participated in screening despite being eligible," says Dr Roeske.

It's hoped that the self-test will increase screening participation rates, particularly among groups who may be under-screened.

According to Jean Hailes for Women's Health, these groups include women in rural and remote areas, indigenous women, culturally and linguistically diverse groups, women facing social and economic disadvantage, victims of sexual trauma and violence, and busy women who have not prioritised their health.

Ultimately, the self-test may help get Australia closer to eradicating cervical cancer altogether.

For more information about cervical screening

Want more like this?

For health and wellbeing news you can use, go to the healthdirect blog.

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo