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.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about pap smears, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: July 2015