Cervical screening

Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular cervical screening. Now it's even easier with HPV testing!
Clinically reviewed by:
Dr Mataroria Lyndon on 8.9.2023

Overview

  • Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular cervical screening.
  • Almost all cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • One way the virus is spread is by sexual activity.
  • 80% of people who have been sexually active will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives. But with regular cervical screening, any changes on the cervix can be detected and treated before they become cancers.
  • From September 2023, the primary test for cervical screening (previously a smear test) will change to a HPV test with the option of self testing.

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Why have regular screening tests

Cervical screening has never been easier now with HPV testing!

  • Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to prevent – as long as we detect the cell changes that cause it early.
  • Almost all cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • With regular cervical screening, any changes on the cervix can be detected and treated before they become cancers.
  • Testing for HPV is really safe, effective and accurate and is as simple as inserting a swab (like a long cotton bud) into the vagina, swirling it around and then sending that sample to the lab
Why is HPV testing a game changer?
  • It's easy, non-invasive and accurate at detecting the presence of HPV
  • It’s a more comfortable method for collection, no more speculum!
  • You can do the test yourself in your own privacy or have a nurse collect the sample for you
  • It’s cheaper than a cervical smear test

How do I know if I need screening?

You are eligible for the HPV test if you:

  • Are aged between 25 and 69
  • Are a wāhine/woman or person with a cervix.
  • Have had intimate skin-to-skin contact or any kind of sexual activity
  • Due or overdue for routine cervical screening

It makes no difference what your sexuality or gender identity is, or if you have not been sexually  active for a long time. If you have a cervix, it’s best to get tested.

If you’ve had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) check with your healthcare provider to see if you still need to have screening.

You should complete cervical screening even if you:

  • Have had the HPV vaccine
  • Are not currently or are no longer sexually active
  • Have had the same partner for a long time or only had one partner
  • Are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,
  • Are transgender or non-binary with a cervix
  • Are pregnant
  • Have had a baby
  • Have been through menopause
  • Feel healthy and have no symptoms

Free screening is available for women and people with a cervix who:

  • Are aged 30 or over and have never had a screening test or are under-screened
  • Require follow-up testing
  • Hold a Community Services Card
  • Are Māori or Pacific

If you have a friend or whānau member who is eligible for cervical screening, share this information and tell them about the new HPV self-test. It might just save their life!

FAQs for HPV self testing

How is cervical screening changing?

From 12 September 2023, New Zealand is adopting a simpler screening test which is a better first test for the prevention of cervical cancer.

As a result, most people will now only need to screen every five years. The new test looks for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which causes more than 95% of cervical cancers.

What’s HPV got to do with cervical cancer?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. The virus is very common and is spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact or any sexual activity.

Most adults will have HPV at some time in their lives. The body usually clears the virus itself but some types can persist and go on to cause cell changes that may in time turn into cancer.

Who can have the HPV test?

Everyone with a cervix aged 25-69 who is eligible for cervical screening can choose the HPV Test for their next cervical screening test.

How is it different from the test I’ve had in the past?

For most people HPV screening will replace the test (previously called a “smear” test) where a nurse or GP took a cell sample from your cervix with a speculum and the cells were looked at under a microscope at the lab, to check for changes.

This new screening can be done as a simple vaginal swab. You can choose to do this as a self-test in a private place in a Tend clinic (such as the bathroom) or you can have your nurse assist you.

If this result returns positive for HPV, you will need to see a nurse or GP for a cervical sample (previously called a smear test) to check for cell changes.

You can still choose to have a cervical sample taken by a nurse (similar to a smear test), where a cell sample is taken from your cervix - this will be tested for HPV in the first instance and if positive, the cells will then be looked at under a microscope.

For most people, regular screening will now only be needed every 5 years (or 3 yearly of you are immune deficient).

When do I need the test?

You'll be invited or recalled to the screening programme depending on the time since your last screening.

How do I know if I am due or overdue for screening?

You will be invited or recalled to the screening programme depending on the time since your last screening. If you want to know when you’re due, you can message us through the Tend app or call us 09 300 5076.

Who does the test?

You can do it yourself privately in our Tend clinic bathroom or a nurse can take the test for you at the clinic.

How often do I need to get the test?

Every 5 years for the HPV test. However, some people may require more frequent tests depending on their individual circumstances, and as recommended by their doctor.

Is it safe to have such a big gap between screenings?

The screening gap can be safely extended to 5 years because the HPV test is a better first screening test. It’s a more sensitive test designed to find the cause of most cervical cancer. Cervical cancer often takes 10 years or more to develop. This means people at risk can be identified before cell changes begin to happen, so it’s safe to wait longer between screening tests.

Where is the sample taken from?

The inside of the vagina using a swab (like a long cotton bud). Easier, more comfortable and less invasive than taking a sample from the cervix.

What does the sample look for?

The presence of certain types of HPV. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, which is a group of very common virus that can live on the cervix. Certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer.

Does this mean I won’t need a smear test anymore?

The swab test option will suit most people but may not be ideal for everyone.

For clinical reasons, some people will still be recommended to have a clinician-taken cervical sample (a ‘smear’), or you may still choose this option if you prefer it.

Talk to your healthcare provider to get information and advice, to decide what’s best for you.

If you do a self-test or have a clinician-taken swab test and HPV is detected, you will either need to return for a cervical cell sample to be taken or be referred to a specialist clinic. This will depend on the type of HPV found.

Can I take the HPV test home and return it?

No, the test sample pack is not suitable to be taken home at this stage. You’ll need to do the test in the clinic while you’re there, but rest assured it’s easy and only takes a few minutes!

How will I find out about my results?

Once your sample is collected and received by us, it will be sent to the lab for testing. If negative, we will notify you in the results feature in the Tend app or by text or email. If it’s positive, we’ll call you to discuss the results. It can take up to 2 weeks for the results to come in.

What is the likelihood of detecting HPV?

On average, about one in 10 people (10%) will have HPV detected in their cervical screening test sample.

What does a negative test mean?

A negative HPV test means you are at very low risk of developing abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer within the next five years. Around 90% of people screened will be found NOT to have HPV.

It's important to continue regular screening even after a negative result, as HPV can be inactive and may only become active later on. This means that even if you're no longer sexually active or remain with the same sexual partner, it's still important to continue regular screening until you're 69.

What happens if my test is HPV positive?

If HPV is found, further checks will be done to make sure it hasn’t caused cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer. The recommended follow-up will depend on the type of HPV detected.

You may be asked to return to have a cervical cell sample (if your first test was done as a swab). Or you may be referred for colposcopy, done by a specialist. This is an examination of your cervix using a special microscope. Sometimes tissue samples (a biopsy) will be taken.

How much does the HPV test cost?

The HPV test is $29 or is free for eligible patients who are enrolled with Tend. For casual patients it's $79.

Free screening will be available for women and people with a cervix who:

  • Are 30 years and over and unscreened (have never had a screening test)
  • Are 30 years and over and under-screened (haven’t had a test in the past 5 years)
  • Require follow-up testing
  • Are Māori and/or Pacific
  • Hold a Community Services Card

Additional lab fees may apply for patient's not eligible for funded health care in NZ.