Those who will be eligible for free cervical screening include women and people with a cervix who are unscreened (have never had a screening test), under screened (haven’t had a test in the past 5 years), at higher risk requiring surveillance/follow up, Māori, Pacific, and anyone who is a community service card holder. This includes those populations that are at a higher risk of cervical cancer.
The free screening will be available from 12 September, when the new HPV test will roll out.
Dr Nick Chamberlain, National Director of the National Public Health Service at Te Whatu Ora, says: “Providing free HPV cervical screening tests will play a critical role in helping more people to access the programme and detect cancer earlier.
“The new HPV cervical screening test will be much easier to use and will identify more pre-cancers. This will prevent more cases of cervical cancer, supported by the speculum and colposcopy tests.”
The new HPV test means that people will have three options for having a cervical screening test:
- you can choose to collect your own sample, via a simple self-test vaginal swab.
- you can ask your healthcare provider to collect your vaginal swab sample, or
- you can choose to have your healthcare provider take a sample from your cervix; 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).
The launch of the new test will now take place on 12 September, replacing the previously announced date of 26 July.
Dr Chamberlain says the new launch date will enable the health system time to prepare to offer the free screening for those who are eligible, as well as further test the new information technology system that will support the screening programme.
“The new IT system will make it easier for us to reach out to those who don’t regularly access screening to invite them to take part, offer support to access appointments like help with transport, as well as answer any queries they might have. It will also make it easier for people to know when they are due for their next test. The core part of the IT system has been built and the robust testing that we are undertaking at present will help to ensure all components are working and that data is safe, accurate and up to date.”
The delay in the launch date will not affect the overall delivery timeframe for the new HPV screening programme, which will be completed by the end of March 2024.
Dr Chamberlain urges those due or overdue for screening to get screened now. “The current cervical screening test (often called a smear test) is safe and effective in protecting against cervical cancer. If you are due for a test, I encourage you to contact your health provider now to book in.”
- Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.
- Having regular cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer, along with HPV immunisation.
- Around 180 people are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer 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 primary screening detects the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a common virus that causes most cervical cell changes and almost all cervical cancers
- HPV is a very common virus, passed on by intimate skin-to-skin contact or any sexual activity. Most people will have it at some time in their lives and in most cases, it clears up by itself.
- There are many types of HPV. Persistent infections with high-risk types can, over time, lead to cervical cancer. HPV testing will find more pre-cancers and prevent more cases of cervical cancer, supported by the speculum and colposcopy tests within the pathways.
- HPV primary screening will support new clinical pathways that will provide greater choice to participants to lift uptake, increase screening in priority groups and reduce mortality rates in our communities.
- If you're a woman or person with a cervix, aged 25-69, and have ever had intimate skin-to-skin or sexual contact you should have cervical screening every 5 years (or every 3 years if immune compromised).
- Cervical cancer often takes 10 years or more to develop. Because HPV testing is more sensitive in finding the virus that causes the cell changes, it is safe to wait longer between screening tests
Further information about the NCSP is available at www.timetoscreen.nz
Ross Henderson, Principal Media Advisor