print   Print full article

Laboratory tests

HPV test
The HPV test replaces the Pap smear from December 2017. A Medicare rebate applies to the test. It is a more reliable and more accurate test than the Pap smear for detecting precancerous changes in the cervix. 

Cervical cells are collected by brush or spatula during a vaginal speculum examination, the same way the Pap smear test was collected. The cells are collected in a liquid and are tested for HPV DNA.  If HPV DNA is detected, the cells will be examined microscopically to look for cancerous or pre-cancerous changes.  More frequent testing will be required if abnormalities are detected. 

Women aged 25 to 74 will be invited to participate in the cervical HPV test every 5 years.  

Any woman under 25 years old or over 74 years old with abnormal vaginal symptoms should see their GP for assessment and testing, regardless of their HPV immunisation status. Similarly, any woman who notices abnormal vaginal symptoms outside of the recommended screening times should see their GP promptly for assessment.

All States and Territories have Cervical Cancer Screening Registers that help doctors recall women for testing and keep track of any follow-up investigations. It is therefore important that all women ensure their GP has their correct name and address details and inform them of these changes. For information visit the National Cervical Screening Program. Women who have not had a regular smear test may be offered one when they attend their GP on another matter.

Papanicolou or cervical smear
The Pap smear test is replaced by the HPV test from December 2017. 

In a Pap smear, cervical cells were collected by brush or spatula for microscopic examination. This was a widely used screen for precancerous changes in cervical cells. In Australia, regular two yearly tests were recommended for all women aged 20 to 69 years or if under 20 years, 1 to 2 years after first intercourse. More frequent testing was required if abnormalities were detected. Screening ceased for women aged 70 years and over if they had never had a significant cervical abnormality and they had two negative tests in the last five years.

Other tests

  • Colposcopy - a follow-up test that may be advised if abnormal cells are found on a smear or if frequent inadequate smears are obtained. Colposcopy is a simple examination that involves putting a vinegar-like solution on the cervix and then using a magnifying instrument to look closely at the cervix, checking for abnormal areas.
  • Biopsy – if, at colposcopy, abnormal looking areas are found on the cervix, small pieces of tissue will be removed for examination by a pathologist. A biopsy and microscopic evaluation is the only way to tell for sure whether abnormal cells are cancerous, precancerous, or reactive for some other reason.

Last Review Date: November 6, 2017