The new Cervical Screening Test is similar to the Pap test. The new Cervical Screening Test is based on the latest medical and scientific evidence and is more effective at detecting the virus that causes cervical abnormalities at an earlier stage.
It is now better understood how cervical cancer develops. Cervical cancer is rare and it usually takes 10 or more years for the virus that causes most precancerous abnormalities to develop into cervical cancer.
It is expected that the changes to the National Cervical Screening Program following the introduction of the new Cervical Screening Test will protect up to 30% more women from cervical cancer.
What does the Cervical Screening Test detect?
The Cervical Screening Test looks for the common human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the cells of your cervix.
HPV is so common that many people have it at some point in their lives and never know it as there are usually no symptoms.
What is HPV?
There are many types of HPV infections and most are cleared naturally by the body’s immune system within one to two years without causing problems.
HPV is a very common infection that is spread by genital-skin to skin contact during sexual activity. HPV is so common that many people have it at some point in their lives and never know it as there are usually no symptoms.
In rare cases, some types of HPV infection that are not cleared by the body can cause abnormal cervical cell changes.
What does my test result mean?
Your healthcare provider will talk to you about your Cervical Screening Test results.
Possible results include:
- Return to screen in five years
- Repeat the HPV test in 12 months
- Refer to specialist
- Unsatisfactory test result
Return to screen in five years
Your screening results indicate you do not have an HPV infection. The National Cervical Screening Program will send you an invitation to have your next Cervical Screening Test in five years. The latest medical and scientific evidence shows that you can safely return to screen in five years.
Repeat the HPV test in 12 months
Your screening results indicate you do not need further investigation but you should have a repeat test in 12 months.
This is because you have an HPV infection that is likely to be cleared by your body within the next 12 months.
A repeat test in 12 months checks that the infection has gone and you are safe to return to five yearly screening.
If the repeat test shows the HPV infection has not gone, you may need further investigation from a specialist. This does not mean you have developed cancer.
It takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop after an HPV infection and cervical cancer is a rare outcome.
Refer to a specialist?
Your screening results indicate you have a type of HPV infection that requires further investigation from a specialist or the test has indicated that you have abnormalities that require treatment.
This does not mean you have developed cancer. It takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop after an HPV infection and cervical cancer is a rare outcome.
You will be referred to a specialist for a follow-up test, known as a colposcopy test (see “What is colposcopy” for more information).
It is very important you follow the instructions of your healthcare provider if you received this test result.
Will treatment a affect my chances of becoming pregnant?
Some types of treatment such as a cone biopsy or wire loop excision may weaken the cervix. While it is still possible to become pregnant, a stitch may need to be inserted into the cervix to strengthen it and reduce the risk of miscarriage. It is important to notify your healthcare provider of any treatment you have had to your cervix in the past.
How did I get the HPV?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread by genital-skin to skin contact during sexual activity. You can be exposed to HPV the first time you have sexual activity, and from only one sexual partner.
Most people will have the HPV infection at some point in their lives but the body usually clears the virus. The virus is so common it could be considered a normal part of being sexually active.
Condoms may provide some protection from HPV, but condoms do not cover all the genital skin. The time from HPV infection to cervical cancer is usually 10 – 15 years.
Can Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people also get the virus?
Yes, anyone who engages in genital-skin to skin contact with a person of any gender can be infected with HPV.
Do I need to avoid having sex if I have HPV?
There is no reason to stop having sex if your Cervical Screening Test shows HPV.
The HPV virus is very common and there is no way of knowing if your partner currently has, or has had, this type of virus as most of the time the body is able to clear the virus without the virus causing any problems.
Should I tell my partner I have HPV?
Because the virus can be hidden for a long time, having HPV does not necessarily mean that you or your partner has been unfaithful. HPV can remain inactive for a long time. For most people it is impossible to know when or from whom they were infected with HPV.
HPV also can cause genital warts and other cancers such as anal, vaginal, oropharyngeal (throat), vulva and penile. If you have HPV, you may choose to discuss this with your partner. Talking with your partner about your Cervical Screening Test results is completely your decision.
If you are worried about passing HPV onto your partner, talk to your healthcare provider for further advice.
How is HPV treated?
There is no treatment for HPV. In most cases the immune system clears HPV from the body naturally over time and has no long- lasting effects. Most people with HPV have no symptoms and will never know they have it. Cervical cell changes caused by HPV and found by a Cervical Screening Test should be followed up by further testing, and be treated if necessary.
Can I be reinfected with HPV?
There are different types of HPV virus. Once you have been exposed to one type of HPV, you are unlikely to be infected again with the same virus, as the body usually becomes immune to that type. However, the virus may remain in active in your body and many years later may become active again. So even if you are no longer sexually active, or only have one sexual partner, you should continue screening.
I have had the HPV Vaccine. Can I still get the HPV Infection?
Yes. Even if you have had the HPV vaccine you should have regular Cervical Screening Tests. There are many types of HPV and the HPV vaccine does not protect you against all of them. You may have already been exposed to HPV through sexual activity before you had the vaccine. The HPV vaccine does not protect against HPV infections you have already been exposed to.
Should I have the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine works best if it is given before exposure to HPV, before you are sexually active. If you have already been exposed to HPV, the benefits of the vaccine may be reduced.
In Australia the HPV vaccine is given to adolescents through the school-based immunisation program and is approved for use in females aged 9 – 45 and in males aged 9 – 26. Talk to your healthcare provider about the individual benefits to you. The vaccine can be purchased outside of the funded school program; you might be charged extra consultation fees by your healthcare provider. Three doses of the vaccine are currently recommended.
The vaccine is safe and protects against the two HPV types (types 16 and 18) that cause around 70 per cent of cervical cancers, as well as some anal, vaginal, oropharyngeal, vulva and penile cancers. It also protects against two non-cancer causing HPV types that cause up to 90 per cent of genital warts.