Consultation on changing cervical screening test

  • Jonathan Coleman

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the Ministry of Health is seeking views from the sector and the public on changing the cervical cancer screening test.

“New Zealand has one of the most successful cervical screening programmes in the world,” says Dr Coleman.

“Over 73 per cent of women aged between 20 and 69 have regular smear tests. Around 160 New Zealand women develop cervical cancer each year.

“There is always scope to further improve screening. The Ministry is seeking views from the public and the health sector on making the HPV test the first test for women being screened for cervical cancer.”

Currently cervical screening involves analysing cells from the cervix to detect changes that could indicate an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.

The HPV test detects over 90 per cent of the human papillomavirus which is the major cause of cervical cancers. HPV screening is a different way of testing the cell sample.

What happens at a woman’s cervical smear appointment would not change. As HPV is a more effective test the average of 18 screening visits in a woman's lifetime would drop to ten with screening every five years instead of every three years.

“The HPV test is a better way to identify women at higher risk of developing cervical cancer than the current test. The proposed changes would make the screening programme even more effective,” says Dr Coleman.

“HPV is accepted internationally as a better primary test, and a number of countries are implementing HPV screening including Australia, the UK and the Netherlands.

”The protection offered by the HPV vaccination programme and the HPV test would ensure screening can provide a greater level of reassurance of finding cancer early, resulting in better health outcomes for New Zealand women.”

If the HPV test is adopted, the Ministry of Health will work with the sector to ensure a smooth transition and manage any potential workforce changes. Cytology will continue to have an important place in cervical screening.

The consultation period on the proposed changes to the cervical cancer screening test begins today and closes on 23 October 2015.