Changes to the starting age for cervical screening

The decision to change the cervical screening start age has been made because there is 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.

Screening women 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 women under 25 years old despite significant reductions in both cancer incidence and mortality for women older than 25 years of age.

The age change is in line with international best practice. Countries including Australia, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and Norway all now start cervical screening at 25 years of age.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer also recommends that cervical screening begins at age 25 or older.

The Ministry of Health undertook a review of evidence to support the change in the screening age. The document 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’s 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 women

From November 2019, women will be invited to join the cervical screening programme as they turn 25 years of age.

Invitations to be screened will continue to come from primary care providers. Women can be invited from 6 months before they turn 25.

Women who are already screening and are under 25

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

Women under 25 with concerning symptoms

Women 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: 08 August 2019