Everything You Need to Know About Cervical Screening Tests

  • December 6, 2023
  • For Approval
  • MonaLisa Touch
  • Vaginal Health
  • Vulval Conditions
  • Women's Health

Everything You Need to Know About Cervical Screening Tests

It’s important for women to have regular Cervical Screening Tests (CSTs) to reveal the onset of cervical cancer, as most cases of cervical cancer occur in women who have either never been screened or are not up-to-date with their screenings.

This used to be done through the Pap Smear test, but in 2017 the Pap Smear was replaced with CSTs. This affected the way women were tested, causing a lot of uncertainty among women about when to get tested and if they need to get tested. Rest assured; we have the information you need.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is the abnormal growth of cells that line the cervix, and a way to detect this is with regular CSTs. Although it’s possible for symptoms of cervical cancer to occur, getting regular CSTs can reveal the onset of cervical cancer early on. If symptoms do occur, the most common ones are:

  • Pain during intercourse.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Menstrual bleeding being longer or heavier than usual.
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods.
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
  • Changes in vaginal discharge, such as: more discharge than usual, or discharge with a strong or unusual colour or smell.

If you do experience any of these symptoms, it doesn’t automatically mean you have cervical cancer, as these symptoms can be related to other women’s health conditions. It’s important to ask your GP for a referral to Northside Gynaecology if you do experience any of these symptoms.

Why CSTs Are So Important

CSTs are similar to the Pap Smear test, where a healthcare professional will insert a swab and take a sample of your cervical cells. While the Pap Smear would look for abnormal cervical cells, CSTs detect for the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. It can take 10-15 years for HPV to develop into cervical cancer, so if your CST detects HPV, this doesn’t mean you are certain to have cervical cancer. Your healthcare professional will inform you on the next steps to be taken, which is usually a follow up CST within 12 months.

Unlike the Pap Smear test, CSTs only need to be taken once every 5 years for women between the ages of 25 and 74. There’s no need for anyone to be tested before the age of 25, as it’s very rare for cervical cancer to occur in women younger than 25. However, if you are younger than 25 or if you still get screened regularly and experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should see your GP as soon as possible.

Cervical Screening Tests | Northside Gynaecology

All women between the ages of 25 and 74 should be getting regular CSTs, even if: you’re no longer sexually active, are sexually active but in ways other than sexual intercourse, or if you have already experienced menopause. Women between the ages of 70 and 74 should have what’s called an “exit” CST, also known as your final CST. If HPV is not detected in this test, you can stop having CSTs as the risk of developing cervical cancer is extremely low. You will only need to be tested again if you start experiencing symptoms of cervical cancer.

Can I Test Myself?

Self-collection options are available for women who may feel uncomfortable being tested by someone else. All eligible women between the ages of 25 and 74 have the option of either a self-collected sample or a clinician-collected sample. You will be assessed through a healthcare provider in both cases. Your healthcare provider will provide you with a swab, give you instructions on how to collect your sample, and offer you a private place to perform the test.

Cervical Screening Tests | Northside Gynaecology

You may be wondering if self-testing is just as effective as being tested by a clinician. Although the self-test only collects vaginal cell samples while a test taken by a GP collects cervical cell samples, HPV can still be detected in both types of cells. However, if HPV is found on your self-collected sample, you will either be referred to a specialist for further testing, or your GP will collect a sample of cervical cells to look for any abnormalities in your cervix.

If self-testing for cervical cancer is something you’re interested in, you should speak to your GP to help decide what option is best for you. Self-testing is not suitable for women who are experiencing cervical cancer symptoms, such as unusual bleeding, pain, or discharge.

How Can the Government Help?

CST Reminders

The 5-year gap between each appointment can make it difficult to remember when your next CST is. That’s why the National Cancer Screening Register sends a reminder letter every 5 years when you’re due for your next appointment. You’ll just need to make sure your current residential address is kept up-to-date, which you can do in your MyGov account, or separately via your Medicare, Centrelink, or Child Support online accounts.

GP Payment Options

Payment for CSTs will depend on where you go to get your test done. If you choose a bulk billing doctor or clinic, there will be no out-of-pocket expenses for you. However, if you don’t book with a bulk billing practice, you may be asked to pay the full cost and claim the rebate from Medicare. Be sure to ask about the CST cost when booking your appointment.

Continue to get regular CSTs, and keep an eye out for any symptoms of cervical cancer. If you receive abnormal results, or are experiencing any symptoms related to cervical cancer or other women’s health conditions, be sure to request a referral to Northside Gynaecology.

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