Did you know that Australia’s National Cervical Screening Program changed in 2017? Instead of doing the Pap Smear test, we now do HPV testing on the cervix. It’s a more accurate test and the best way to prevent cervical cancer.
So what does it mean to have HPV? Let’s break down.
What are the symptoms?
Some types of HPV are invisible on the skin but can be found on cervical screening.
Sometimes HPV can cause genital warts; these are almost always harmless, but treatment can help get rid of them.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus.
It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) worldwide.
It’s passed through skin-to-skin rubbing.
There are many different types of HPV and most of us will get infected with at least one in our lives.
HPV infections usually go away on their own within a couple of years.
What’s the difference between genital warts and HPV on the cervix?
Some types of HPV cause genital warts; these are almost always harmless, but treatment can help get rid of them.
Other types of HPV are invisible on the skin but can be found on cervical screening.
When HPV is found on the cervix the lab will report if it’s a ‘high risk’ or ‘low risk’ type. ‘High risk’ types of HPV are the ones known to cause cervical cancer.
If I don’t have symptoms, how do I know if I have HPV?
There’s no routine test for HPV in the penis, rectum (bum) or throat.
Who needs a Cervical Screening Test (CST)?
You should have the test if:
You have a cervix, and
You’re 25 to 74 years old, and
You’ve ever been sexually active
I’m still not sure if I need the Cervical Screening Test (CST)…
What if I got the HPV vaccination?
YES, you still need the CST. Vaccination doesn’t prevent all types of HPV.
What if I’ve only had sex with one person?
YES, you still need the CST. HPV is that common.
What if I’ve only ever had sex with people who have a vagina?
YES, you still need the CST. A penis isn’t required to get HPV.
What if I’m a trans guy who never has front hole sex?
YES, you still need the CST. HPV is passed through skin-to-skin rubbing and can get to your cervix even without penetration. You can find more information about cervical and other cancer screening as a trans person here.
What if I have a vagina, but I don’t have a cervix?
USUALLY NO…. It depends on multiple factors, but some trans women who’ve had vaginoplasty, some intersex people, and anyone who’s had a full hysterectomy may need a similar test that’s done in the vagina (instead of the cervix). Ask your doctor for advice. You can find more information about cervical and other screening as a trans person here.
Is the Cervical Screening Test (CST) the same as the Pap Smear Test?
The Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap Smear test in 2017 after research showed it was a more accurate way of protecting people from cervical cancer.
The Pap Smear test used to look for cell changes on the cervix and was recommended every two years.
The Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV which can lead to those cell changes. It only needs to be done every five years if your results are normal.
What does it feel like to get the Cervical Screening Test (CST)?
If you’ve had a Pap Smear before, the Cervical Screening Test will feel the same.
It’s done with a speculum inserted into the vagina. This helps the clinician see your cervix. They then use a soft brush to gently collect cells from the cervix.
It shouldn’t hurt, but it can be uncomfortable. Luckily it’s usually done in just a few minutes.
I’m overdue for cervical screening because I hate the idea of the speculum exam.
If you’ve been putting off having a cervical screening, talk to your doctor about what you need to feel more comfortable; you might like to have a friend or partner there with you; you might ask the doctor to go slowly and explain in detail what’s happening; you might even request to insert the speculum yourself. It’s okay to ask for what you need and you can always choose to stop at any time.
If you’re over 30 years old and at least two years late for cervical screening, you may be eligible for self-collecting your own sample. That means no speculum exam. Ask your doctor if this is right for you.
Where can I get the Cervical Screening Test (CST)?