Having regular Pap tests can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by up to 96%. In Australia, this means saving the lives of more than 1,200 women each year. A Pap test picks up early warning signs that can be treated before cancer develops.
Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die from cervical cancer than non-Aboriginal women.This suggests that Aboriginal women are less likely to have regular Pap tests to pick up early warning signs.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers. Cervical cancer is a disease where normal cells in the cervix change and multiply to form a growth or tumor. If you have a Pap test every two years, you are doing the most important thing possible to avoid this disease.
A Pap test is a quick and simple test that checks for changes to the cells of your cervix (entrance to the womb) that may lead to cervical cancer.
The Pap test is the best way of avoiding cervical cancer, which is commonly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The evidence for HPV causing cervical cancer is very strong.
Most women who develop cervical cancer have not had regular Pap tests. The most common type of cervical cancer takes up to 10 years to develop.
It is important to have a Pap test every two years, so that any abnormal cells are detected early.
If you’re aged between 18 and 69 years and have ever been sexually active, you should have a Pap test every two years – even if you’ve had the HPV or cervical cancer vaccine, and even if you no longer have sex.
If you are near 70 years of age and have never had Pap test, it is still recommended that you have one.
Pap tests are for ‘well women’. If you have any signs, such as irregular bleeding or pain, see your doctor or nurse straight away.
You can have a Pap test at an Aboriginal Medical Service, at your local doctor’s office, a women’s health or family planning clinic. The test takes just a few minutes.
It is ok to choose a provider who is not your regular doctor if it makes having the test more comfortable. When you’ve chosen the location and health provider that will make you feel the most comfortable, call and make an appointment. If you’re feeling anxious, you can organise to take a family member or friend with you.
When you arrive for your Pap test, the nurse or doctor will take you to a private room. You will be asked to take off your clothing from your waist down and lie down. Your provider will usually give you a bed sheet which you can place over you.
The nurse or doctor will ask you to bend your knees and will insert a speculum into your vagina. The speculum will assist your provider to collect a sample of cells from your cervix using a small swab, in a process that takes a few seconds.
The test does not take long and is completely safe. It may be uncomfortable but it should not hurt.
The cells are placed on a slide and sent to a laboratory where they are tested. The doctor or nurse who performs your test will explain how to find out your results.
A small number of Pap tests show changes which may need more tests. If you do require more tests, don’t worry, most changes are not cancer
After your first Pap test, your name will be recorded on the NSW Pap Test Register. This is a confidential reminder service that will send you a letter when you are overdue for your next Pap test.
Ask your Aboriginal Medical Service, doctor or nurse about a Pap test today.
More information about cervical screening can be found on the Resources and publications page.