Glossary

Here are some terms you may see or hear when you’re reading about cervical cancer screening or discussing it with your doctor, nurse or community health worker. Always ask for explanations if you’re not sure about anything your doctor or other health professionals talk about.

TermDefinition

Abnormal test

Pap test result indicating some cells from a woman’s cervix are different from other cells in the sample.

Atypia

slight changes in the cells of the cervix.

Adenocarcinoma

an uncommon form of cervical cancer arising from the glandular cells of the endocervical canal.

Australian Modified Bethesda System 2004

the terminology system for reporting cervical cytology.

Biopsy of the cervix

removal of a small piece of the cervix for examination under a microscope. May be recommended to further examine evidence of high-grade cell changes.

Cells

microscopic building blocks of living organisms. The body is made up of millions of cells.

Cervarix

one of two cervical cancer (or HPV) vaccines listed on the National Immunisation Program.

Cervical cancer

a disease where normal cells in the cervix change and multiply to form a growth or tumour.

Cervical cancer vaccine

protects against high-risk HPV types 16 and 18, which are detected in 70 to 80 per cent of cervical cancers in Australia (see also HPV vaccine).

Cervix

the lower part (or ‘neck’) of the uterus (womb) located at the top of the vagina.

Colposcopy

the examination of the cervix and vagina with a magnifying instrument called a colposcope, to check abnormalities detected in a Pap test.

Diathermy

the use of heat applied electrically to destroy abnormal cells or to stop bleeding.

Endocervical

inside the canal of the cervix.

Gardasil

one of two cervical cancer (or HPV) vaccines listed on the National Immunisation Program.

Glandular cells

tall, columnar cells that exist near the top of the endocervical canal. Apart from their appearance, glandular cells are also different from squamous cells as they can secrete. They make mucus which helps protect the entrance to the uterus.

Glandular lesion

abnormality involving the glandular cells of the cervix.

Gynaecological oncologist

gynaecologist who has had special training and certification in caring for women with gynaecological cancers.

Gynaecologist

a specialist in women's reproductive health.

High-grade result

abnormal Pap test result that indicates probability of a persistent HPV infection that may develop into cancer if not treated.

High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL)

more serious changes that required further investigation and sometimes treatment.

HPV (human papillomavirus)

a very common virus, with four out of five people having it at some stage in their lives, which is found in most women with cervical cancer. However, most women with HPV do not develop cervical cancer.

HPV vaccine

see cervical cancer vaccine.

Intraepithelial

within the layer of cells that form the surface or lining of a part of the body.

Intraepithelial lesion

abnormality confined to the surface layer of the cervix.

Lesion

abnormal appearing area.

Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSIL)

minor abnormalities that normally go away within one year.

Low-grade result

Pap test result that shows early changes to the cells of the cervix, possibly indicating an HPV infection.

Mortality

number of deaths in 100,000 residents each year.

Oncologist

a specialist in the study, management and treatment of cancer (oncology).

Pap test (or Pap smear or Pap smear test)

sample of cells taken from a woman’s cervix during a visit to a doctor, health centre or Family Planning clinic. Recommended every two years to avoid cervical cancer. Named after the test’s inventor, Dr George Papanicolaou.

Practice Nurse

a registered or enrolled nurse who is employed by a General Practice. A Practice Nurse will often perform Pap tests on behalf of, and/or under the supervision of a General Practitioner and are an alternative for women who would prefer a female Pap test provider.

Screening

the process of testing people without symptoms who are at-risk of developing a certain disease. Screening tests predict the likelihood of someone having or developing a particular disease. The Pap test is a screening procedure to look for changes that might lead to cancer of the cervix.

Sexually active

engages, or has ever engaged, in sexual practices involving skin-to-skin contact, including (but not limited to) vaginal and anal sex.

Speculum

an instrument used during a Pap test. It looks like a duck bill on handles and is used to hold open the vagina. It may be plastic and disposable or metal and re-useable.

Squamous cell carcinoma

cervical cancer that affects the outer surface of the cervix.

Squamous cells

flat cells that look like scales or plates through a microscope. They make up the tissue that covers or lines the internal parts of the body.

Transformation zone

the area in the cervix where the squamous cells meet the glandular cells. The transformation zone is in the cervical canal.

Unsatisfactory result

Pap test result usually indicating an error during the test or test analysis.

Vagina

the canal extending from the cervix to the outside of the body.

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