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Cervical screening & cervical smears

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Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms. Cervical screening (a cervical smear test) is one of the best ways of protecting yourself against cervical cancer, also called cancer of the cervix. Your cervix is the opening to your uterus (womb) at the top of your vagina.

A cervical smear is a test that takes a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. Laboratory staff then look at these cells under a microscope to look for any abnormal changes. Sometimes they test for human papillomavirus (HPV) as well.

Smear tests are part of a national screening programme in New Zealand. They're available for all women, transgender or non-binary people with a cervix or vagina who are aged between 25 and 69, and who've been sexually active. Screening might be started earlier if you're sexually active and have a depressed immune system. Read more about screening.

If you've had a hysterectomy, talk to your doctor about what screening is right for you. If you've had your cervix removed, you can have a test called a vault smear that's taken from the top of your vagina.

Having a smear test every three years can reduce your chance of getting cervical cancer by 90%.

To do the test, a doctor or nurse looks at your cervix using an instrument called a speculum, which they put into your vagina. They use a small soft brush to pick up a few cells from the surface of your cervix, which they then send to the laboratory. Laboratory staff then look at these cells under a microscope to find HPV. Watch the video Cervical Screening – What to expect to find out more.

After your test

Results usually take about two weeks. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how you'll get your results.

In 90% of cases, results come back normal with no abnormal cells found. This means your risk of getting cervical cancer is very low. You should have your regular cervical smear in three years' time.

Sometimes the result is inadequate, and you may be asked to have another test in three months. This doesn't mean anything is wrong, just that the results weren't clear.

If your results show abnormal cells, read about understanding your cervical smear results and what they mean for you.

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On the next page: Treatment after an abnormal smear result

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2021.

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See also:

Understanding your cervical smear results

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