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Pap smears - common questions

Here are answers to some of the commonly asked questions about Pap smears (also referred to as cervical screening).

When should I be screened?

The National Cervical Screening programme in Australia recommends:

  • Routine screening with Pap smears should be carried out every two years for women who have no symptoms or history suggestive of cervical pathology
  • All women who have ever been sexually active should start having Pap smears between the ages of 18 and 20 years, or one or two years after first having sexual intercourse, whichever is later
  • Pap smears may cease at the age of 70 years for women who have had two normal Pap smears within the last five years.
  • Women over 70 years who have never had a Pap smear, or who request a Pap smear, should be screened.

Do I need a screening if I’m not sexually active?

Any woman who has ever had sex should have a Pap smear.

Where can I go for screening?

Pap smears can be performed at your local health centre, usually by a practice nurse or doctor.

Do I need a pelvic examination?

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommend that pelvic examinations are not routinely required with a Pap smear. For more information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Watch this video to learn more about cervical screening.

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 two years after their last Pap test.

More information
Read more about changes to National Cervical Screening Program

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Last reviewed: July 2015

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