HPV primary screening

From July 2023, the primary test for cervical screening will change to a human papillomavirus (HPV) test, with the option of self-testing.

The new screening method will test for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). About four out of five people have an HPV infection at some time in their lives. There are many different types of HPV and some are more likely than others to lead to cervical cancer. For most people an HPV infection clears by itself within two years (especially in people under 30). However, sometimes it becomes a persistent infection, which may need further follow up and sometimes treatment to prevent cervical cancer.

There will be several changes when the new primary screening test is introduced.

Self-testing will be an option. A vaginal swab can be taken by the participant in privacy at a health clinic, or it can be taken by a clinician if preferred The health care provider may also arrange for the tests to be done off site, for example, at home, or in a non-clinical setting in the community. The clinic will be responsible for getting the sample to the laboratory. A speculum exam is not needed for the new test. However, if the test shows HPV is present a follow-up test will be needed.

This might include:

  • a speculum exam to look at the cervix and check the cells
  • a colposcopy, a procedure done in outpatients, where a specialist can inspect the cervix through magnification and may take a biopsy or remove an area of concern.

People can be confident that a negative HPV test means they are at very low risk of developing abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer within the next five years. This means routine cervical screening will only be needed once every five years, not every three years as it is currently.

When HPV primary screening is introduced it is likely participants will still access their health care provider for the cervical screening, even when undertaking self-testing. The Ministry of Health will be looking at ways to make screening even more accessible in the future, which may include a future approach of a national mail-out of self-testing kits, if they are found to work safely and well for participants.

It is important people who are due for screening continue with the current cervical screening test, and do not wait for the programme change in 2023. The current screening programme is clinically safe and effective and will continue to be so as the programme transitions.

For more information visit frequently asked questions.

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Page last updated: 20 July 2021