Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about cervical screening
Find answers to some of the questions you may have about changes to cervical screening in Aotearoa.
For more information about cervical screening, visit Time to Screen.
What is cervical screening, and why do you need it?
The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus. You can get cancer of the cervix, which is mainly caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) — a common infection spread through sex.
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 might in time turn into cancer.
Regular HPV tests or, in some cases, cervical smear tests are the best protection against cervical cancer. These tests are designed to find abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, before they develop into cancers.
With regular checks, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.
It’s a really good idea for anyone with a cervix, aged 25-69 years old, to get an HPV test every five years. You will have extra testing if HPV is found.
How has cervical screening changed in Aotearoa?
It’s now simpler and easier to have this important health check.
The main test for cervical screening has changed to a human papillomavirus (HPV) test. The new HPV test looks for the virus, that causes more than 95% of cervical cancers.
This means that for most people, a vaginal swab will be taken and tested for HPV, instead of a cervical cell sample with a speculum exam known as a ‘smear’ or ‘cervical screen’. With the new HPV test, you now have three options for having a cervical screening test:
- You can choose to collect your own sample, via a simple self-test vaginal swab
- You can ask your healthcare provider to collect your vaginal swab sample, or
- You can choose to have your healthcare provider take a sample from your cervix — a speculum exam known as a ‘smear’ or ‘cervical screen’. This option may be recommended by your health provider based on your circumstances and screening history.
Note. If you do a self-test vaginal swab 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. Around 10% of participants will have an HPV Detected result.
How is it different to the cervical screen/smear test done in the past?
For most people the HPV test will replace the test where a doctor or nurse took a sample from your cervix, using a speculum.
The new HPV test can be done as a simple vaginal swab. You can choose to do this as a self-test with your healthcare provider — such as behind a curtain or in a bathroom — or you can have your healthcare provider help you.
You can also choose to continue to have the type of test you’ve had in the past, where a doctor or nurse took a cell sample from your cervix using a speculum.
For most people, regular screening will now only be needed every 5 years, or 3-yearly of you are immune deficient.
How do you get the new HPV test?
You can get the new HPV test through us, or you can go to your usual screening provider.
Can you just pick up an HPV test and do it yourself?
We can give you the HPV test, and you can choose to self-test, or we can do it for you.
You need to make an appointment with us, or your usual screening provider, to get your HPV test.
The HPV test is suitable for most people but, in some circumstances, you may need to have a cervical sample taken. That is why it is important to speak to us, or your usual screening provider, first.
Can you do the HPV test at home?
We have a private space in our clinics for you to do the test but talk to us about other options for where you may be able to take your sample.
Does this mean you won’t need a cervical screen/smear test anymore?
The HPV test will suit most people but may not be ideal for everyone.
For medical reasons, some people will still be recommended to have their doctor or nurse take their cervical sample, or you may still choose this option if you prefer it.
Talk us, 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. Around 10% of participants will have an HPV Detected result.
What if HPV is found in your sample?
If HPV is found in your sample, it doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. Most HPV infections clear up by themselves. However, if the virus is found, you will be referred for further checks to see if there are any cell changes on your cervix.
Do you have to pay to do a cervical screening test?
Cervical screening, including the HPV test, is not fully funded in Aotearoa; however, Te Whatu Ora is funding free cervical screening for:
- Women and people with a cervix 30 years and over who are unscreened (have never had a screening test) or under-screened (haven’t had a test in the past 5 years)
- Anyone requiring follow up
- Māori and Pacific
- Anyone who is a community service card holder
How do you know if you are due or overdue for cervical screening?
You can contact the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP)-Register to find out if you are due or overdue for screening, to change your contact details, or to ask any other questions. You can contact the NCSP by free phoning 0800 729 729 or emailing [email protected].
How we can help you
We are experts in cervical screening. We can:
- Talk to you about your cervical screening options — and help you decide what option is best for you.
- Give you the HPV test, and you can choose to self-test, or we can do it for you.
- If medically necessary, or if you prefer — take a sample from your cervix, using a speculum — what used to be known as a ‘smear’ or ‘cervical screen’.
Anyone can visit our clinics. Our appointments are completely confidential. If you want to talk with us, we want to talk to you.
Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.