‘Pap smears’ could be replaced by do-it-yourself cervical cancer tests

Date published:

July 1, 2022

Media type:

Press release


General public

Starting today, women who are required to undergo a cervical screening test can choose to take a sample themselves.

The self-collect option is a game changer in cervical screening – and Australia is one of the first countries in the world to offer this option to all screening participants.

For many women and people with a cervix, especially those who have experienced sexual assault or abuse, having a regular ‘smear’ from a GP can be extremely traumatic, and many women choose not to have this test instead. do, exposing them to a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

Being able to do the test yourself is also expected to increase the rate of cervical cancer screening for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, who may have faced cultural barriers and taboos surrounding traditional ‘smears’. It will also make a world of difference to the gender-diverse community that also faces barriers to entry.

Self-collection will be available through primary care clinics, women’s health clinics, Aboriginal health centers and other health care providers, through the National Cervical Screening Program, which encourages a simple five-year test (changed from every two years in 2017) to check for human papillomavirus (HPV) before cancer cells develop. HPV is a common infection that causes almost all cervical cancers.

Today’s change to the National Cervical Screening Program means anyone ages 25-74 with a cervix, who has ever been sexually active, can opt for a cervical screening test, either by:

  • take their own sample from their vagina, using a simple cotton swab, or
  • have the sample collected by a healthcare professional using a speculum.

Both testing options are free under Medicare — so if your healthcare provider charges bulk bills for consultations, the whole thing is free. They can be accessed through a healthcare provider and are accurate and safe ways to take a sample for a cervical screening test.

Self-sampling is also available as an option for follow-up HPV testing after an intermediate risk outcome and cervical screening during pregnancy.

The Australian government is working with the Australian Center for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer to develop a national strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer.

This will be a coordinated effort across the health system to overcome cultural and structural barriers to cervical cancer prevention programs and treatment, especially for First Nations peoples and other underscreened populations.

The government also supports Australia’s largest clinical trial, the Compass Trial, which will provide the world’s first evidence on the interactions between HPV vaccination and HPV-based screening. The trial will deliver improvements to the national cervical screening program to ensure participants continue to receive appropriate care.

More information about self-sampling and the National Cervical Screening Program can be found at: www.health.gov.au/ncsp

Attributed to Assistant Secretary of Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney

“Anyone who has ever had a traditional ‘smear’ knows how uncomfortable and unpleasant that can be. Now women can choose to do a test themselves to detect cervical cancer.”

“This DIY test is a game changer, removing barriers to entry for many people. It means that women who have experienced sexual violence do not have to undergo the invasive test, but can still be effectively screened for cervical cancer.”

“Self-sampling makes cervical cancer screening a lot more accessible for people from different cultural backgrounds, who may not have opted for a traditional ‘smear’. It will also reduce barriers to screening for the gender-diverse community.”

“This gives women more control over their own bodies and makes it easier to stay safe and healthy.”

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