New cervical cancer screening tests a ‘game changer’
The primary test for cervical screening will change from a “smear” exam to a human papillomavirus (HPV) test from 12th September 2023 – with the option of self-testing. The new test is expected to increase screening rates and significantly reduce cervical cancer deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The new screening method will test for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). There are many different types of HPV and some are more likely than others to lead to cervical cancer.
Te Whatu Ora has announced $7.3 million in funding to provide free cervical screening services for key groups as part of its move to the new HPV test.
Free screening will be available from 12th September 2023 for:
- women and people with a cervix 30 years and over who have never had a screening test;
- women and people with a cervix 30 years and over who haven’t had a test in the past 5 years;
- anyone requiring follow up;
- Māori and Pacific; and
- anyone who is a community service card holder.
Women may notice several changes when the new primary screening test is introduced:
- Women will have the option to self-test. A vaginal swab can be taken by the woman herself in privacy when she visits her healthcare provider for a screen, or it can be taken by a clinician if she prefers.
- A negative HPV test means you are at very low risk of developing abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer within the next five years. So routine cervical screening will only be needed once every five years – not every three years as it is currently.
- Women will still need to consult with their healthcare provider for their screens – even when self-testing. However, the Ministry of Health will be looking at ways to make screening even more accessible in future, including mailing-out self-testing kits if they are found to work safely and well for women.
The swab test option will suit most people but may not be ideal for everyone. You may still choose to have a cervical sample test if you wish (often called a smear test) and this test will still be necessary to check if the HPV virus has caused cell abnormalities.
Cervical screening is for eligible women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 69. Cervical cancer often takes ten or more years to develop. So it is recommended that you have a cervical screening every 5 years – or every 3 years if you are immune-deficient.
Still have cervical smears if you have had the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine protects against some high-risk types of HPV, but it doesn’t protect against them all. So it’s important to have cervical screening even if you have had the HPV vaccine.
Combining HPV immunisation with regular cervical screening is the most effective way you can protect yourself against cervical cancer.
HPV immunisation is now free for everyone aged 9 to 26 inclusive. It’s not too late to discuss getting the vaccine with your health provider if you are under 27 years and have not yet been vaccinated.
Source: Te Whatu Ora media release: 12th September 2023.Published on Tuesday, September 12th, 2023, under News