Cervical screening is referred to as a Pap smear.
Pap smears are done every two years in Australia.
The purpose of a Pap smear is to identify any abnormal cells (pre-cancerous) in your cervix that may go on to develop into cancer. It is not a test for cancer.
Cells can change and become abnormal if a woman is exposed to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This is a very common virus that is spread through direct skin to skin contact (which often occurs during sex). The majority of people carry the virus only.
There are many different strains of HPV (over 100), but only a few of these may go on to cause cancer. The other types usually go undetected or occasionally cause genital warts in some people.
If the results of your cervical screening come back as abnormal, you will probably be asked to see your doctor to discuss your results. Most of the time, the abnormal cells will disappear on their own without treatment.
If you do have treatment to remove the abnormal cells, you will usually be asked to attend for follow up for a repeat Pap smear. This is to monitor the activity of the cervical cells to make sure no more abnormal ones develop.
Pap smears can be performed at your local health centre, usually by a practice nurse or doctor.
Changes to cervical screening
From 1 December 2017 the National Cervical Screening Program will change to improve early detection. The current 2 yearly Pap test will change to a 5 yearly HPV test.
What should I do before 1 December 2017?
If you are a woman aged 18 to 69, you should continue to have your regular Pap test every 2 years.
When will I be due for my first HPV test?
Women will be due for the first HPV test 2 years after their last Pap test.
Read more about changes to National Cervical Screening Program
Last reviewed: July 2015