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Cervical screening during pregnancy

5-minute read

You may be wondering if it’s safe to have a cervical screening test while you’re pregnant, and whether the benefits outweigh any risks. Routine cervical screening is the best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer. Of the 800 women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in Australia, 1 in 5 were never screened or were not up to date with screening.

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is a simple way to check the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening of the womb (uterus) at the top of the vagina. The cervical screening test looks for evidence of human papillomavirus (HPV), is a virus that can cause changes to cells in your cervix — which can develop into cervical cancer.

The cervical screening test has replaced the Pap test (or, ‘smear’), which was offered to women every 2 years.

During a cervical screening test, an instrument called a speculum is gently inserted into the vagina, so the health provider performing the screen can see your cervix. A soft spatula or ‘broom’ type brush is then used to collect the sample. The cervical screening test looks and feels the same as the Pap test. The procedure might feel a bit uncomfortable but shouldn’t hurt.

How often should I have a cervical screening test?

Cervical screening can be done every 5 years, if your results are normal. You should have the test if:

  • you’re aged between 25 and 74 years
  • you have ever been sexually active
  • you have a cervix

If you’ve had a Pap test before, your first cervical screening test should be 2 years after your last Pap test.

It’s best to start cervical screening at 25 years of age — studies show there’s no extra benefit to testing women under 25. While women under 25 don’t need routine cervical screening, if you have pain during sex, or unusual bleeding or discharge at any age, see your healthcare provider as soon as you can.

If you are under 25 years and were previously screened, and received an abnormal test result, you should continue to follow your doctor's advice.

Checkups, scans and tests during pregnancy

Learn more about what checkups, scans and tests you can have during pregnancy.

I'm pregnant — can I have a cervical screening test?

Cervical screening can be performed at any time, including before becoming pregnant and during your pregnancy. Your pregnancy might be the first chance your healthcare provider has to offer you a cervical screening test. Cervical cancer tends to be diagnosed in women who aren’t routinely screened.

Is it part of standard antenatal care?

You may be asked about your cervical screening history during your first antenatal visit, and offered cervical screening if you haven't had one within the recommended time. This is an important opportunity to take steps to keep yourself healthy and well, throughout your pregnancy and beyond.

What is 'self-collection' cervical screening and can this be done during pregnancy?

Self-collection is where you are shown how to collect your own sample for cervical screening.

You may be offered the option of self-collection of a vaginal swab for HPV testing. Your healthcare provider should outline the process and discuss the small risk of bleeding or spotting that may occur because of this test.

In some instances, if the test returns a positive result, you may be asked to return to your doctor so they can perform another test.

Is there any danger to the baby?

It’s safe to have a cervical screening test during your pregnancy. The benefits to your health outweigh any risks to your baby.

Whatever the outcome of the screening test, it’s generally safe to continue your pregnancy — since HPV infection during pregnancy doesn’t usually affect the baby. Even if there are abnormal cells on the cervix, it’s very rare for this to progress into cancer during a pregnancy.

That’s why, in most cases, your healthcare provider will wait until after your baby is born to do a repeat test and, if necessary, treat cervical cancer.

What happens if the result is not normal?

If your test shows you have HPV, your healthcare provider will monitor the infection and is likely to recommend further tests to better understand the changes to your cervical cells. Even when results show an HPV infection, it normally takes 10 or more years for it to develop into cervical cancer. Only about 1 in 20 pregnant women will have abnormal cervical cells after further investigation.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2020


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Need more information?

Understanding your Pap test or cervical screening test results | Cancer Council

The Pap test (sometimes called the Pap smear) has changed to the cervical screening test. Find out about how the changes impact you here

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Cervical Screening | Pap Smear | Jean Hailes

All you need to know about cervical screening tests and how they differ from pap smears. Learn why and when you should have one and how they work.

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Pap smear tests - MyDr.com.au

Pap smear tests are currently used in Australia as a screening test for cervical cancer. A Pap smear test can detect changes in the cells of the cervix that may develop into cancer.

Read more on myDr website

Pap Smear Tests | Cervical Screening Tests - Sexual Health Victoria

Cervical Screening (formerly Pap Smear or Pap Test) is a 5-yearly test for those between the ages of 25 – 74 years, to check cervical health. Book an appointmen

Read more on Sexual Health Victoria website

Your questions answered on cervical screening tests | Know Pathology Know Healthcare

A cytologist answers questions about cervical cancer screening and why you should get up to date

Read more on Know Pathology Know Healthcare website

Cervical Cancer - Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions of the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation. FAQ

Read more on Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation website

Cervical cancer screening | Cancer Council

Read about the cervical screening program designed to work together with the HPV vaccination program, to help reduce the incidence of cervical cancer

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

What happens if your cervical screening test is positive? | Know Pathology Know Healthcare

Find out how cervical screening tests are performed and what happens when a cervical screening test is positive for HPV

Read more on Know Pathology Know Healthcare website

Cervical screening: what health professionals wish you knew | Know Pathology Know Healthcare

The people who perform your tests told us their messages to women about cervical screening, cancer and why vaccinated and young women still need the test

Read more on Know Pathology Know Healthcare website

Samantha’s story - Surviving HPV related cancer | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Samantha survived a rare but aggressive form of cervical cancer that her doctor said was highly likely caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). She urges all parents to sign the consent form so their child can be protected against HPV related disease as part of the school based immunisation program.

Read more on Department of Health and Aged Care website

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