Cervical screening is a test that looks for abnormal changes to the cells of the neck of the uterus (cervix), before they develop into cancer.
A cervical smear involves having a sample of cells taken from the cervix and having these examined closely under a microscope. If any abnormal changes are seen, then 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 three years have approximately a 90% reduction in risk of cervical cancer.
Who should have a cervical smear test?
All women aged 20 until they turn 70 who have ever been sexually active should have regular smear tests, regardless of their vaccination status or sexual orientation. Women who have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) need to check with their doctor or smear taker whether they still need to have cervical smear tests.
In 2019 the starting age for cervical screening will change from 20 to 25 years. Read more
What happens during the test?
Having a smear 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, many women from developing cervical cancer.
More information and pictures at having a cervical smear test National Cervical Screening Programme.
Who does the 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 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.
Related brochures (also see right-hand column)
- Cervical screening – understanding cervical smear test results Ministry of Health, NZ, 2014
- Colposcopy - Information for women who have abnormal cervical smear test results Ministry of Health, NZ, 2010
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.