Age range change for cervical screening

The National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP) will be changing the recommended starting age for cervical screening from 20 to 25 years in 2019.

This decision has been made because there is now a strong body of evidence that screening women between 20 and 24 years of age provides little benefit to women and has the potential to cause harm. The primary reason for this is because screening is not effective in this age group at preventing cervical cancer.

Since the start of the NCSP in 1990,  there has been no reduction in rates of cervical cancer for women under 25 years old despite large reductions in both cancer incidence and mortality for women older than 25 years of age.

The age change is in line with changes made in many other countries, including Australia, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and Norway. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer also recommends that cervical screening begins at 25 years old.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme in schools offers the best protection to younger age groups from HPV infections and the risk of developing cervical cancer. Progress with the vaccination programme’s coverage rates has been accelerated, with boys now also being offered the vaccination (since 2017). Further information about the HPV vaccination programme can be found on the Ministry of Health website:

Until the screening age is raised to 25 years of age in 2019, women aged 20 to 24 years should continue screening as previously and as directed by their GP or other cervical screening provider. Any women, including those outside the screening age range, who have concerning symptoms, such as unusual vaginal bleeding, persistent discharge or pelvic pain, should see their health care provider who will arrange the appropriate tests.

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Page last updated: 07 June 2018