Cervical screening is a test that looks for abnormal changes to the cells of the neck of your uterus (cervix). This is so treatment can be given before the abnormal cells develop into cancer.
What is a cervical smear test?
A cervical smear involves having a sample of cells taken from your cervix. These are then examined closely under a microscope. If any abnormal changes are seen, treatment can be provided. Without treatment, some cells with abnormal changes can develop into cervical cancer.
Cervical smear tests are very important. Studies have shown that women who have cervical smear tests every 3 years have about a 90% reduction in their risk of developing cervical cancer.
Who should have a cervical smear test?
All women from the age of 25 to 70 who have ever been sexually active should have regular smear tests, regardless of your vaccination status or sexual orientation. Women who have had a hysterectomy (removal of your uterus) need to check with your doctor or smear taker whether you still need to have cervical smear tests.
Prior to 1 November 2019, women aged 20–24 years of age were also screened, but the evidence showed that this provided little benefit to women in this age group and has the potential to cause harm. If you are in this age group and have already been screened, you should have your next cervical smear test when it is due, even if you are under 25. Other women will have your first smear test at the age of 25.
What happens during a cervical smear test?
Having a smear test only takes a few minutes. Some women find it a little uncomfortable, but it should not hurt.
A few cells will be collected from your cervix and placed into a liquid solution that preserves the cells for testing. This sample is sent to the laboratory where a small sample is put onto a microscope slide. Using high magnification, the cervical cells can be checked for any abnormal changes. A report is written and sent to your smear taker.
Like any screening test this process is not 100% accurate. However, it does pick up most problems at an early stage and has prevented many women from developing cervical cancer.
See more information and pictures: Having a cervical smear test National Cervical Screening Programme, NZ
Who does a cervical smear test?
To have your cervical smear test, you need to see a nurse, doctor or other health provider. You can find smear takers at:
- your GP’s clinic – if you would prefer a female doctor or nurse, ask when making the appointment
- your nearest Whare Rapuora – Māori health centre or iwi Māori health provider
- Family Planning NZ find a family planning clinic
- sexual health centres find your regional and local district health board
- women's health organisations such as Well Women & Family Trust in Auckland who provide a free smear clinic or Mana Wahine – Kokiri Marae Cervical Screening Services Wellington
See more information under Services by region below.
Your cervical smear results and what they mean
There are a number of changes that your smear test can show. If there are any abnormalities, you will be sent a letter or contacted by your smear taker. Sometimes follow-up tests are needed.
Read more about your results and what happens next if there are abnormalities:
- Cervical screening – understanding cervical smear test results Ministry of Health, NZ, 2019
- Colposcopy – information for women Ministry of Health, NZ, 2018
What is the cervical screening programme?
The National Cervical Screening Programme, set up in 1990, aims to reduce the number of women in New Zealand who develop cervical cancer and the number who die from it. The National Screening Unit is responsible for organising the programme, which includes health promotion, smear taking, laboratory analysis of cervical smears, cervical biopsies and management of women with abnormal smear results.
For more information visit the National Cervical Screening website or freephone 0800 729 729.
Services by region
- Family Planning Clinics – free for under 22-year-olds, low cost for people with Community Services Card. Clinic fees Family Planning, NZ
- Let us know what other options are available in your area.
The following links provide further information about cervical screening. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
Cervical screening Time to Screen, NZ