Changes to the test
From July 2023, the primary test for cervical screening will change to a human papillomavirus (HPV) test, with the option of self-testing.
The new screening method will test for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). About four out of five people have an HPV infection at some time in their lives. There are many different types of HPV and some are more likely than others to lead to cervical cancer.
For most people an HPV infection clears by itself within two years (especially in people under 30). You might not even know you’ve had it. However, sometimes it becomes a persistent infection, which may need further follow up and sometimes treatment to prevent cervical cancer.
Women may notice several changes when the new primary screening test is introduced.
- Women will have the option to self-test. A vaginal swab can be taken by the woman herself in privacy when she visits her healthcare provider for a screen, or it can be taken by a clinician if she prefers. A speculum exam is not needed for the new test.
- Women can be confident that a negative HPV test means they are at very low risk of developing abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer within the next five years. This means routine cervical screening will only be needed once every five years, not every three years as it is currently.
- Women will still need to consult with their healthcare provider for their screens, even when self-testing. However, the Ministry of Health will be looking at ways to make screening even more accessible in future, which could include mailing-out self-testing kits if they are found to work safely and well for women.
Please do not wait until self-testing is available to get your cervical screen. The current screening test is clinically safe and continues to be a very effective tool for reducing cervical cancer. If you haven’t had a screen in the last three years, get in touch with your doctor, practice nurse or health clinic, or call the National Screening Unit on 0800 729 729.