Symptoms and Process of a Cervical Screening

What symptoms do I need to look out for?

The Australian Medical Board recommends that anyone with a cervix should have a cervical screening at 25 years old unless they experience abnormal symptoms.

Symptoms to look out for are:

  • vaginal bleeding between periods

  • menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than usual

  • bleeding after intercourse

  • pain during intercourse

  • unusual vaginal discharge

  • vaginal bleeding after menopause.

Source: Cancer Council.

The Cervical Screening Test looks for human papilloma virus (HPV). This is a common sexually transmitted infection, it is estimated that 70% of the worlds population contracts it at some point in their lifetime. HPV is normal, it's nothing to feel shame about.

If your cervical screening returns abnormal, this means your cervical cells are showing HPV. In most cases, HPV will go away on its own, if not, which is also common, you may be referred to a specialist for a biopsy for further testing.

Cervical screenings were previously called pap smears. This is a similar test and feels the same when it is being performed by your doctor. The new cervical screening test is more accurate and needs to be performed less frequently.

What happens during a cervical screening?

Your doctor will ask you to go behind the screen, take off your underwear and lay down on the bed in the doctors room. Once you're ready, they'll ask you if they can come in. They will then get you to bend your knees and probably adjust how you're laid so they can ensure they can comfortably insert the speculum. The doctor will likely have a light shining into your vagina so they can have a clear look.

When you're ready, the doctor will let you know that they are about to insert the speculum. The speculum will be covered in lube for a more comfortable insertion. The speculum is used to open your vagina so they can have a more clear view of your cervix, once inside, the doctor will press the handle to open up the speculum to begin the screening.

Your doctor will then take a swap of your cervix, they do this by using a small brush like tool to take a sample of the cells on your cervix to be sent away and tested. The procedure itself will take around five minutes, so take deep breaths, think about other things if you're feeling nervous and let your doctor know if you're feeling scared or in pain at any point.

cervical screening process

Cervical Self Collection

As of July 2022, cervical self collection is now available across Australia. Cervical self collection looks a little like a covid swab, and is as easy to do as a covid test. 

A self-collected sample is taken from the vagina (not the cervix). All you need to do is insert a swab a few centimetres into your vagina and rotate it for 20 to 30 seconds.

Your doctor or nurse will talk you through the process and explain what you need to do. Then you will either be instructed to do your collection behind the curtain, or taken to a private space within the clinic. This is not a take home test, this is done in a private area in the clinic. 

Please keep in mind, if your self collection comes back showing abnormalities, you will be required to have a cervical screening.

cervical self collection


If your screening returns an abnormal result (this is very common), your doctor will be in contact with you to talk you through the next steps. This may be a visit to a gynaecologist or it may mean that you might need your next cervical screening sooner so your GP can see if your cells are changing. Usually your cells return a normal result without intervention.

If you do not have a doctor you usually visit, a doctor you trust, or a doctor you feel comfortable, please visit our practitioner directory. This directory is filled with doctor recommended by our Get Papped community. All GP's have been tried and tested by our community and have made a strong enough impression to be personally recommended.