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Screening for early signs of cervical cancer is one of the public health success stories of the 20th century, as shown by the substantially lower rates of cervical cancer in countries with an organised screening program. 

The Pap smear test has been replaced with the Cervical Screening Test. 

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). In  December 2017 the Pap smear test was replaced with the renewed National Cervical Cancer Screening Program. These changes recognise the introduction of a vaccine against specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) as well as developments in new screening tests. The test procedure is similar to the Pap smear test but will test for HPV infection.

Women aged between 25 and 74 years of age should have a cervical screening test two years after their last Pap smear test. After that, you will only need to have the test every five years if your results are normal.

The age for screening has changed from 18 to 25 for your first test as most women under the age of 25 will have been vaccinated for HPV. Cervical cancer is also rare in women under the age of 25. You will need to have regular cervical screening tests even if you have received the HPV vaccination as it does not protect against all types of HPV that may cause cervical cancer.

For further information visit our cervical screening website

Types of HPV that cause cervical cancer can be prevented through immunisation. For more information see the immunisation section or visit our HPV vaccine website.

This policy contains information about human papillomavirus immunisation and cervical screening. It will be updated as significant new literature is published or if there are important changes in the policy environment. This policy was updated in August 2018 following the implementation of the renewed National Cervical Screening Program.

This policy has been developed by Cancer Council Australia and reviewed internally by the Screening and Immunisation Committee of Cancer Council Australia.

This policy has been externally reviewed by Dr Lisa Whop (Research Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research) and Dr Dorothy Machalek (Epidemiologist, Women’s Centre for Infectious Diseases). It has been approved by Cancer Council’s principal Public Health Committee in October 2018.

Contact: Amanda McAtamney

Key policy priorities in summary

  • Promote participation in the national HPV Vaccination Program among adolescents
    • Optimise vaccine uptake in populations with higher incidence of cervical cancer such as Indigenous communities
  • Promote participation in cervical cancer screening 
    • Increase participation among women in under-screened populations, including collaboration with Indigenous and culturally and linguistically-diverse communities
  • Support a national HPV surveillance program 
    • Strongly encourage routine recording of HPV status as well as Indigenous status and country of birth on vaccine consent forms and pathology collection forms

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. In Australia, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates halved between 1991-2002 after the introduction of a national cervical screening program in 1991.[1] However, since then incidence rates in women aged 25-69 have been stable.[2]

It has been established that persistent infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly all cervical cancers. This knowledge has led to two important clinical advances: vaccines for primary prevention of cervical cancer, and HPV testing to improve secondary prevention. The introduction of the National HPV Vaccination Program in 2007, delivering the prophylactic vaccine to adolescent girls, is expected to further reduce cervical cancer in Australia. In 2013, the program was extended to include adolescent boys.[3]

Developments in HPV vaccination and screening technologies, along with new evidence on the optimal screening age range and interval led to the need to evaluate the optimal combination and integration of vaccination and screening. A review of Australia’s National Cervical Screening Program led to recommendations to replace Pap tests every two years with HPV testing at an interval of five years and the starting age for screening to be increased from 18 to 25 years. These recommendations were implemented in December 2017.

This chapter discusses the impact of cervical cancer, discusses the policy context in Australia in which both vaccination and screening take place and outlines Cancer Council's policy priorities to reduce the burden of cervical cancer in Australia. Lastly, it discusses the causes, provides information on HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) books. [homepage on the internet] Canberra: AIHW; 2017 Available from:
  2. Smith M, Canfell K. Impact of the Australian National Cervical Screening Program in women of different ages. Med J Aust 2016 Oct 17;205(8):359-364 Available from:
  3. Dey A, Knox S and McIntyre P. Evaluation of the National Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Program FINAL REPORT. Sydney: NCIRS; 2014 Aug [cited 2018] Available from:

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