Changes to the starting age for cervical screening

The cervical screening start age change was made because of the strong body of evidence that screening people between 20 and 24 years of age provides little benefit and has the potential to cause harm.

Screening people who are aged 20 to 24 has been shown to be ineffective at preventing cervical cancer. Since the start of the NCSP in 1990, there has been no reduction in rates of cervical cancer for people under 25 years old despite significant reductions in both cancer incidence and mortality for people older than 25 years of age.

The age change was in line with international best practice. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer also recommends that cervical screening begins at age 25 or older.

Prior to the change, the Ministry of Health undertook a review of evidence, which is available on the following page:

The human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation programme in schools forms a key part of the prevention pathway, alongside regular screening, to protect against HPV infections and cervical cancer. Progress with the immunisation programme has recently accelerated and since 2017, boys have also being offered HPV immunisation. Further information about the HPV immunisation programme can be found on the Ministry of Health website:

How this change will affect participants

From November 2019, young people have been invited to join the cervical screening programme when they turn 25 years of age. The invitation to start screening can start from 24.5 years. 

Those who are already screening and are under 25

People aged 20-24 years who had already started screening will continue to be offered screening in accordance with the current programme guidelines.

People under 25 with concerning symptoms

People who have symptoms, such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, persistent discharge or pelvic pain, should see their health care provider who will arrange appropriate investigation.

Page last updated: 20 July 2021