Frequently asked questions

On this page you will find answers to frequently asked questions about proposed changes to the cervical screening test.

Why is the screening test changing?

What will women notice when HPV primary screening is introduced?

How is the new testing different from the current cervical test?

Can women self-test now?

What is the relationship between HPV and cervical cancer?

Why is HPV immunisation important?

What if I’ve had the HPV vaccine, should I still be screened?

What should I do if I am due for screening?

What will be the next steps?


Why is the screening test changing?

  • HPV causes 99 % of cervical cancers. HPV primary screening is a more effective test for the risk of developing abnormal cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer.
  • The new HPV screening test, including the option for self-testing, will encourage more women to take part in screening. This will help reduce inequities for Māori and Pacific women. In New Zealand, Māori and Pacific women are more likely to get cervical cancer and are more likely to die from it.
  • Because the new test is more effective, the time between tests can safely be increased from three to five years. Women with a negative HPV test are at very low risk of developing abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer within the next five years.

What will women notice when HPV primary screening is introduced?

Women will notice some changes:

  • Routine screening will only be needed once every five years, not every three years as it is currently.
  • There will be the option to self-test with a vaginal swab, which is expected to be more acceptable to participants. A clinician can also take the swab. The current cervical screening approach involves the use of a speculum by a clinician to take a cervical sample.
  • Women will still need to access their healthcare provider for their screens, even when self-testing. At the start of the new programme, the process will be that a doctor, nurse or other health care worker will explain how to do the test and be responsible for getting the sample to the laboratory.
  • The Ministry of Health will be looking at ways to make screening even more accessible in future, which could include mailing-out self-testing kits if they are found to work safely and well for women.

How is the new testing different from the current cervical test?

  • The new test involves taking a swab from the vagina, which is then tested for the presence of HPV. This swab can be taken by the woman or by a health professional. A speculum exam to look at the cervix is not needed. The HPV test looks for the HPV virus that can cause changes on the cervix that might become cancer if they are not treated. Women with a negative HPV test are at very low risk of developing abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer within the next five years.
  • The current cervical screening test requires a procedure where a sample is taken from a women’s cervix. This is done by a health professional, using a speculum. The cells from the cervix are then tested for abnormal changes that could lead to cancer.
  • Women with a history of abnormal cell changes, or women with a positive HPV test will be recommended to have a cytology test procedure (the same procedure as the current test) to check for the presence of cell changes. This will give clinicians more information to determine either more frequent monitoring or specialist referral for further diagnostic testing.

Can women self-test now?

  • The change to the screening test will be implemented from July 2023. It is important if women are due for screening, they continue with the current cervical screening test, and not wait for the programme change in 2023.
  • A safe transition to the new screening test requires changes across the programme including the IT system, clinical guidelines, workforce training and referral pathways and this will take some time.
  • The current screening programme is clinically safe and effective and will continue to be so as the programme transitions.

What is the relationship between HPV and cervical cancer?

  • Almost all cervical cancer is caused by infection with HPV.
  • HPV is a common virus spread through sexual activity. 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 women who develop an HPV infection, it will disappear on its own and not develop into cervical cancer, however women who are found to have a high-risk HPV infection need further follow-up and sometimes treatment to prevent cervical cancer.
  • It is important to remember that a cervical screening test is not a test for cancer, but for its precursor.

Why is HPV immunisation important?

  • With HPV immunisation, up to 90 percent of cervical cancers can be prevented. Not all the HPV types that cause cervical cancer are in the vaccine, so women who have been vaccinated need to continue with regular cervical screening.
  • HPV immunisation is delivered through school-based immunisation programmes and is also available through your family doctor. HPV immunisation is free for everyone aged 9–26 years (inclusive), including boys and young men.
  • Please visit the Ministry’s HPV immunisation webpage for more information.

What if I’ve had the HPV vaccine, should I still be screened?

  • The HPV vaccine is highly effective, but not all the HPV types that cause cervical cancer are in the vaccine, which means it is still very important to have cervical screening to minimise the risk of cervical cancer.
  • The HPV vaccine is free for everyone aged 9 – 26 years of age.
  • Combining HPV immunisation with regular cervical screening is the most effective way you can protect yourself against cervical cancer.

What should I do if I am due for screening?

  • Regular cervical screening is the most effective way you can protect yourself against cervical cancer.
  • The current screening programme continues to be safe and effective, and it is important that women keep having their regular cervical screening, and not wait for the change to HPV screening 2023.
  • Women who are nervous or have concerns can talk to their health care provider. They will be able to help find ways to make screening more comfortable.
  • If a woman is concerned about symptoms that could be cervical cancer, she should see her doctor as soon as possible.
  • Symptoms to watch for include unusual bleeding between periods, pain or bleeding during or after sex, and vaginal bleeding after menopause.
  • Visit Time to Screen for more information.

What will be the next steps?

  • A consultation will be undertaken on the inclusion of the self-testing component in the guidelines and referral pathways over the next few months.
  • The programme change will occur in July 2023.
Page last updated: 17 April 2019