Joint release | Te Whatu Ora, Te Aka Whai Ora

A new cervical screening test, available from today, is expected to increase screening rates and significantly reduce cervical cancer deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The HPV primary screening test is a simple and quick swab that people can choose to do themselves. It detects the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes more than 95 percent of cervical cancers.

Today also marks the start of free cervical screening for people aged 30 and over who have never had a cervical screen or who haven’t had a screen in the last five years. It also applies to Community Services Card holders and Māori and Pacific people.

Dr Nick Chamberlain, National Director, Te Whatu Ora National Public Health Service, says HPV primary screening will be a game changer.

“Not only is this test easier and less intrusive, it’s also a better, more sensitive test that will prevent more cancers. It also means most people will only have to be screened every five years instead of every three.”

The new HPV test won’t totally replace the cervical sample test (often called a smear test), which remains an option, and 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. New Zealand’s move to HPV primary screening follows the adoption of the new test in Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and several other European countries.

The introduction of HPV primary screening is expected to help towards addressing longstanding inequities for Māori and Pacific people, who have higher rates of incidence and death from cervical cancer. Selah Hart, Maiaka Hapori Deputy Chief Executive Public and Population Health, Te Aka Whai Ora, says currently only around 60% of wāhine Māori access screening.

“We know cost has been an issue, as well as the invasive nature of the cervical sample test. The removal of these barriers will undoubtedly improve access for wāhine Māori who are currently under screened, and therefore more at risk of late diagnosis.

“We want to encourage wāhine and people with a cervix to have a kōrero with their local hauora Māori partner, doctor or nurse to book an appointment. Tautoko the wonderful wāhine in your life to get screened.”

The self-swab will usually be done in privacy, at a health clinic, doctor’s surgery or community clinic. Some health centres may offer a take-home option, but this won’t be the norm until HPV testing becomes more established.

Although cervical screening, along with HPV vaccination, has greatly reduced cervical cancer in New Zealand, around 180 people develop the disease every year and 60 die from it. Dr Chamberlain says that about 85% of those diagnosed with cervical cancer have either never been screened or have not had regular screening.

“Our hope is that this funding, combined with the new screening options, will increase participation by unscreened and under-screened groups. This includes Asian women, who generally have low rates of participation in the National Cervical Screening Programme.”

Two comprehensive media campaigns, tailored to Māori and Pacific audiences, to raise awareness of the new HPV cervical screening test will be delivered to coincide with Cervical Screening Awareness Month.

More about the new approach to Cervical Screening and HPV testing can be found here.

More information

  • Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers
  • HPV vaccination, along with regular cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer
  • Around 180 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and about 60 die from it
  • Around 85% of people who develop cervical cancer in New Zealand have either never been screened or have been screened infrequently
  • HPV screening detects the presence human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes most cervical cancer
  • HPV is very common and is passed on by intimate skin-to-skin contact or any sexual activity. Most adults will have HPV at some time in their lives and in most cases, it clears up by itself
  • Some types of the virus can persist and go on to cause cell changes that may over time develop into cervical cancer
  • With HPV screening, people now have options for how they have their cervical screening done:
  1. As a simple vaginal swab that you can either do yourself or ask a healthcare provider to assist you with, or
  2. As a cervical sample, taken from your cervix by a healthcare provider; what used to be called a smear test. (If HPV is found, this option also allows for your sample to then be checked for any cell changes).

Regardless of which option you have, you will need to have a consultation with a screen-taker or other healthcare professional first:

  • If you choose the vaginal swab and HPV is detected, you need to come back for follow-up testing to check for cell changes
  • If you're a woman or person with a cervix, aged 25-69, and have ever had intimate skin-to-skin of sexual contact you should have cervical screening every 5 years (or every 3 years if immune-deficient)
  • Cervical cancer often takes ten years or more to develop. So, 5-yearly screening is a very safe interval
  • Screening is free for people aged 30 and over who have never had a cervical screen or who haven’t had a screen in the last five years. Free screening will also apply to Community Services Card holders and Māori and Pacific people. Any follow-up tests or treatment are free for all participants in the National Cervical Screening Programme.

Further information is available at