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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Cervical screening

Whakamātautau waha kōpū

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Cervical Screening is part of the national screening programme in New Zealand.

A diagram showing the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vaginaYour cervix is the opening to your uterus (womb) at the top of your vagina. Cervical screening can find early changes in your cervix that can be treated before they progress to cervical cancer.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection is the main cause of cervical cancer.

From September 2023, cervical screening is changing to become a test for HPV. There are three ways of doing the test. You can take a swab from your vagina yourself, a healthcare provider can take the swab or a healthcare provider can take a cervical sample (previously called a smear).

If the test shows you have HPV, you'll need to have follow-up testing.

Most people will need screening every five years.

People who should have screening tests

Cervical screening is recommended if you:

You should have cervical screening even if you:

If you're aged between 70 and 74 and have not had a normal cervical screen since the age of 65, you'll be offered screening.

If you've had a hysterectomy (your womb has been removed), talk to your healthcare provider about what screening is right for you.

Screening frequency

Cervical screening used to be done every three years, but the new HPV test is a better screening test so it's safe to have a longer gap between tests.

Most people will need cervical screening every five years. If you have a weak immune system (immunocompromised), you'll need screening every three years.

If you have an abnormal test, you may need screening more often.

How the test is done

The test can now be done one of three ways.

Vaginal swab

A vaginal swab is taken in a similar way to swabs taken for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The vaginal swab is similar to a cotton bud, which needs to be inserted into your vagina and rotated a few times before going into a tube and being sent to the lab. Many women find the swab test much easier than a cervical sample test.

See How to do the HPV self-test or Te mahi i te whakamātau-whaiaro for details of how to do the self-test.

Cervical sample

A cervical sample only takes a few minutes. Some people find it a bit uncomfortable, but it shouldn't hurt. During the test, a doctor or nurse puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina so they can see your cervix. 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 to be tested.

Costs

From 12 September 2023, free screening is available for:

Where to get screened

You can get screened wherever is most convenient and comfortable for you. Your choices are:

Wherever you choose, all screen-takers are specially trained to make sure the test is comfortable and meets your rights as a patient.

The National Screening Unit can help you find someone to do your test. Call the unit on freephone 0800-729-729.

Results

Results usually take about one to two weeks. Your healthcare provider will tell you how you'll get your results and if any follow-up is needed.

See Understanding your cervical screening results for more information about screening results.

Even if you have a normal screening test, see your healthcare provider if you have bleeding after sex, bleeding between your periods or a vaginal discharge.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Follow up after an abnormal cervical screening result

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2021. Last updated September 2023.

Sources

See also:

Understanding your cervical screening results

Page reference: 41513

Review key: HICES-20461