Who should have cervical smear tests?
If you are a women aged between 25 and 70 years and have been sexually active, you should have a regular cervical smear test every three years even if you have had the HPV vaccinations. If you have had a hysterectomy you may not need a cervical smear test but you should check with your smear taker/health provider.
Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) a common sexually transmitted infection. HPV affects almost all people at some point in their lives. There are many types of HPV, but only a few types will cause cell changes in the cervix. These changes can return to normal or they may later become cancer if not treated.
Having regular cervical smear tests every three years is the best way of finding and treating any cell changes and preventing cervical cancer from developing.
Why age 25?
From November 2019, the cervical screening start age is changing from 20 to 25 years, as advised by the National Cervical Screening Programme. The age change is supported by strong clinical evidence that screening women in the 20 to 24 year age group is not effective at preventing cervical cancer.
Starting screening before 25 is not recommended by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. This change will bring New Zealand in line with international best practice.
As cancer risks rise significantly after age 25, it is important that women commence screening around the time they turn 25.
Women under 25 who have already started cervical screening will be recalled to continue screening under the current programme.
Where do I get a cervical smear test?
Today women have more choice as to where to have smear tests – especially if a female smear taker is preferred.
Contact your family doctor/GP, practice nurse, midwife or Māori health provider. (Māori health provider list in right hand column)
Free smears are available for some women. To find out if you qualify for a free smear, ask your nurse or health professional.
What happens to my test results?
A few cells are collected from your cervix and placed into a liquid solution that preserves the cells.
This sample is sent to a laboratory to test for abnormal cells. Your results are then sent to the National Cervical Screening Register and your smear taker.
In most cases the test results will be normal and you will be recalled for another smear test in three years time.
In a small number of cases, some women may be asked to come back for another test if there were not enough cells in the liquid preparation to test.
You will be contacted if you have had an abnormal result. You will also be informed by mail. If you have an abnormal result, you may be called back for another smear or referred for colposcopy. An abnormal result hardly ever means cancer. If you are referred to Colposcopy you can take a support person, or you can access support. To do this you contact one of the health providers list under the heading 'Support for screening and colposcopy' in right hand column.
See your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods
- Bleeding or spotting after sexual intercourse
- Bleeding or spotting after your menstrual periods have stopped (after menopause)
- Persistent pain in the pelvis, lower back or lower abdominal area
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Unusual discharge from the vagina. The discharge might be smelly, have changed colour from white to pink, brown or green, or be streaked with blood
Do not wait for your next smear test to have any of these problems checked.
These symptoms can happen for several reasons and rarely mean that you have cervical cancer. However they should be checked by your doctor.