Why don't I need a Cervical Screening Test?

As a young woman, you may be wondering why you no longer need to be screened for cervical cancer until you are 25.

The short answer is that cervical cancer is extremely rare in women under 25, and cervical screening does not appear to have been effective for women your age.

There are around 10-15 cases of cervical cancer a year in women under 25 in Australia. There are about  900 cases a year in total for all women.

Before the HPV vaccine program, older women were five times more likely than women aged 20-24 to develop cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine will put women under 25 at an even lower risk.

Screening doesn't seem to work in women under 25

study conducted by Cancer Council NSW found that overall cervical cancer rates dropped dramatically (by around half) in women aged 25 years or older since the beginning of Pap smear tests in 1991. But regular Pap smear tests don?t seem to have the same benefit in women aged 20- 24, as cancer rates in that age group did not drop as much as other age groups.

The HPV vaccine will help protect you

Since the HPV vaccination program was introduced in 2007, cervical abnormalities among women younger than 25 have been dropping. This means that cervical cancer itself will become even more rare in women younger than 25.

Studies have shown that even young women who aren't vaccinated are at lower risk of infection than in the past  - thanks to what scientists call "herd immunity", it has become harder for HPV to spread.  

"Australian women under 25 today were offered the HPV vaccination when they were younger than 15, and we know that the HPV vaccine is very effective when it is given at that age."

- Megan Smith, Program Manager, Cervix/HPV Group at Cancer Council NSW

What if I've had an abnormal result before?

If a past Pap smear test picked up an abnormality, you will continue to have personalised care from your specialist or doctor. This might include regular appointments and tests for a period of time.

Cancer Council recommends that women of any age who have symptoms (including pain or abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge) should see their doctor immediately.

How will I know when to start getting screened?

If you have never been screened before, or you were younger than 23 when you had your last test, you should have your your first Cervical Screening Test around your 25th birthday.

Women who had a normal routine Pap smear test after their 23rd birthday should have the Cervical Screening Test two years after their last Pap smear test.

I'm vaccinated - do I still need to do the test when I turn 25?

Yes. While the HPV vaccine protects against some high-risk types of HPV, it doesn't protect against them all - and no vaccine is 100% effective. The HPV vaccine also would not have treated any existing HPV infections.

This all means that regular screening remains important for finding HPV in cervical cells. You can read more about this here.