created in partnership with Cancer Coucil Victoria

I Tried The Cervical Screening Self-Collection Test & Here’s How It Went

Previously called a Pap smear, Cervical Screening Tests have come a long way since the scheme was first introduced in Australia in 1991.
For example, I had my first test at 21-years-old, pre-2017. It was a tad cold and I held my breath as my GP took the sample with a speculum and brush, but I was willing to come back in two years' time to stay on top of my health.
Now, Cervical Screening Tests start at age 25 and are only needed every five years. Thanks, science. 
Another development is that whilst you’re still able to have a Cervical Screening Test taken by your GP or specially trained nurse with a speculum, women and people with cervixes are now able to self-collect their Cervical Screening Tests. Here’s a run-down on both options.

What is a Cervical Screening Test?

A Cervical Screening Test is a preventative measure against cervical cancer. The tests look for human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that causes most cervical cancers. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection spread by genital skin to skin contact between people of any gender.
If left untreated, HPV can cause cell changes that may develop into cervical cancer. If these changes are found early through tests, they can often be treated successfully.
The tests are free under Medicare, so as long as you're eligible for Medicare and your doctor or healthcare provider bulk bills for consultation.

How do they work? 

As mentioned previously, you now have more choices when it comes to your Cervical Screening Test. One option is to have a doctor or specially trained nurse use a speculum and a small brush to collect a sample of cells from your cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina). After collection, your sample will be sent to a laboratory to look for HPV. 
The other option is to use the new self-collection method. The self-collection option lets you collect a vaginal sample yourself, using a swab. Your doctor or nurse will give you the swab and a tube and will show you a private space in the clinic to do the test, usually behind a curtain or in the bathroom.
Insert the swab into your vagina and rotate the swab (gently) two to three times for about ten seconds. This should be painless. 
Remove the swab and place it back into the tube and hand it to your doctor or nurse. This swab will then be sent to the laboratory to look for HPV. This method is quick, private and gives you more control over the process – a big win for people with health anxiety
If your test detects HPV, your healthcare provider will follow up with you to potentially be referred to further testing. 
Eliza*, a 25-year-old from Victoria recently had her first Cervical Screening Test using the self-collection method. She’d received a letter in the mail reminding her to get tested since she was 25. 
“I wasn’t expecting to use the self-collection method. I knew it had recently been rolled out, but walking into my appointment I was expecting the standard GP process,” she tells Refinery29 Australia
Eliza’s GP offered her both options.
“My GP explained the self-collection process and how easy it was. I went to the bathroom at the GP’s practice. It was over in less than two minutes and was very private and comfortable, the complete opposite of what I was expecting walking into my appointment.” 
After two weeks, Eliza’s GP called to let her know that she didn’t require a follow up.  

Be proactive 

If you’re 25 or older, you might be due for cervical screening. It’s important to stay on top of your health tests and to know when you’re due for one. Thankfully with the new five-year rule, it’s pretty easy to keep track.
It’s good to get into the habit of Cervical Screening Tests as women and people with cervixes will need to be tested until they’re 74 years old. 
Eliza believes that the new self-collection method benefits everyone with a cervix.
“It’s so important for everyone (particularly those who are getting tested for the first time) to feel comfortable. I hope that the self-collection method will encourage more people to have their regular tests and check-ups.”
If you’re due or overdue for your Cervical Screening Test, book in to see your doctor or nurse and ask about self-collection. 
Cervical screening isn’t what it used to be. At the end of the day, it could save your life. 
Find out more about cervical screening and self-collection here.  
* Name changed for privacy. 
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