What is the Cervical Screening Test (CST)?
The cervical screening test replaced the Pap smear test in 2017. It detects cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV) in a sample of cells taken from the cervix.
The National Cervical Screening Program recommends that women and people with a cervix aged 25–74 have a cervical screening test once every five years.
As of 1 July 2022, there are two ways to have a Cervical Screening Test. You can choose to:
- collect your own sample; or
- have a healthcare provider collect your sample
Understanding the Cervical Screening Test
HPV is the virus that causes most abnormal cervical cell changes and cervical cancers. Many people will have HPV and never know, as there are usually no symptoms.
There are many types of HPV and most are cleared by the body within one to two years.
If the body does not clear HPV, it can cause abnormal cervical cell changes. If left undetected and/or untreated, these changes can develop into cervical cancer.
The Pap smear test used to look for abnormal cells in the cervix, while the cervical screening test looks for HPV infection. The new test for HPV can identify women and people with a cervix who could be at risk of cervical cancer earlier than the Pap test could.
Your two options for cervical screening
Want to find out when your next Cervical Screening Test is due?
Your healthcare provider will be able to tell you when you’re next due, or you can contact the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR). The NCSR is a confidential database of cervical test results. The NCSR allows you to
- find out when you’re due for cervical screening
- update your address or contact details
- opt out or delay screening.
The NSCR sends letters to invite you to start screening when you turn 25, and reminders when you are due or overdue for a test or follow-up.
All women and people with a cervix aged 25-74 years, who have ever had any sexual contact, should have regular cervical screening.
This includes those who:
- feel well and have no symptoms
- are pregnant
- have been vaccinated against HPV
- are going through menopause
- no longer have periods
- have not had sexual contact in a long time
- have only ever had one sexual partner
- have an intellectual and/or physical disability
- only have sex with women
- are transgender, gender diverse or non-binary and have a cervix
A Cervical Screening Test is for those who are well without any unusual signs or symptoms. If you have any symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding or discharge, you should see your GP as soon as possible.
Even if you have received the HPV vaccine, if you are aged 25 to 74 and have a cervix, it’s still important that you have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.
While the HPV vaccine will protect you against several types of HPV, including the main types linked to cervical cancer, it does not protect against them all.
Taking part in regular cervical screening is your best protection against cervical cancer. Look after your health, make sure you’re up to date with your cervical screening.
People can often feel anxious or nervous about having a Cervical Screening Test, especially if it is their first time.
You may find it helpful to first meet with your healthcare provider to discuss any concerns you may have about the procedure or the results you might get.
When you are ready to have the test, there are some things you can do to make it more comfortable:
- You can bring a support person with you to your appointment.
- Wear clothes that are easy to remove from your lower body. A dress or a skirt can be a good idea.
- A sheet will be provided to you so that you can cover your lower body.
- Take slow deep breaths to try and relax your body.
Remember the Cervical Screening Test should not be painful. You can ask your healthcare provider to stop at any time during the procedure.
If you think you might be eligible for self-collection speak to your GP or screening provider. They will be able to provide you with the test and instructions on how to do it. This test is done at the doctor’s or other health setting, usually behind a screen or in the bathroom. Once you’re done, give the swab to your GP or nurse to send off to the lab for testing.
This test is done at the doctor’s or other health setting, usually behind a screen or in the bathroom. If you think you might be eligible for self-collection speak to your GP or screening provider. They will be able to provide you with the test and instructions on how to do it.
You will be given instructions on how to collect the sample and offered a private place to collect your sample, usually behind a screen or in a bathroom at the doctor’s or other healthcare setting. If you have any concerns about how to do the test speak to your GP or nurse. They will be able to provide reassurance and further instructions on how to do the test.
When a GP takes a sample for cervical screening, they are collecting a sample of cells from your cervix. If you take your own sample via self-collection, you are collecting cells from your vagina. HPV can be found just as well in both cells from your cervix and cells from your vagina. If HPV is found on a self-collected sample you will need to go back to your GP to have a sample of cervical cells collected, which are then sent to the lab to see if there are any abnormal changes to your cervix.
If your self-collected test result comes back positive, this means that HPV has been detected and further testing is required. You will need to undergo a practitioner-collected Cervical Screening Test so that cervical cells can be collected and sent to a lab. This is just like a traditional Cervical Screening Test and a speculum examination is required. Speak with your GP or nurse about this test.
If your self-collected test results do not detect the presence of HPV, you will need to screen again in five years – either with a self-collected test or a practitioner-collected Cervical Screening Test.
About this campaign
For information about our Young People and Cervical Screening campaign, including campaign overview, key messages and assets, please download our Campaign Toolkit.