New cervical cancer screening test a ‘game changer’ for reducing cervical cancer rates | Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand | Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty

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New cervical cancer screening test a ‘game changer’ for reducing cervical cancer rates

12 September 2023

A new cervical screening test, available from today, is expected to increase screening rates and significantly reduce cervical cancer deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand.

New cervical cancer screening test a ‘game changer’ for reducing cervical cancer rates

The HPV primary screening test is a simple and quick swab that people can choose to do themselves. It detects the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes more than 95 percent of cervical cancers.

Today also marks the start of free cervical screening for people aged 30 and over who have never had a cervical screen or who haven’t had a screen in the last five years. It also applies to Community Services Card holders and Māori and Pacific people.

Dr Nick Chamberlain, National Director, Te Whatu Ora National Public Health Service, says HPV primary screening will be a game changer.

“Not only is this test easier and less intrusive, it’s also a better, more sensitive test that will prevent more cancers. It also means most people will only have to be screened every five years instead of every three.”

The new HPV test won’t totally replace the cervical sample test (often called a smear test) which remains an option and will still be necessary to check if the HPV virus has caused cell abnormalities.

Cervical screening is for eligible women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 69. New Zealand’s move to HPV primary screening follows the adoption of the new test in Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and several other European countries.

The introduction of HPV primary screening is expected to help towards addressing longstanding inequities for Māori and Pacific people, who have higher rates of incidence and death from cervical cancer. Selah Hart, Maiaka Hāpori Deputy Chief Executive Public and Population Health, Te Aka Whai Ora - Māori Health Authority, says currently only around 60% of wāhine Māori access screening.

“We know cost has been an issue, as well as the invasive nature of the cervical sample test. The removal of these barriers will undoubtedly improve access for wāhine Māori who are currently under screened, and therefore more at risk of late diagnosis.

“We want to encourage wāhine and people with a cervix to have a kōrero with their local hauora Māori partner, doctor or nurse to book an appointment. Tautoko the wonderful wāhine in your life to get screened.”

The self-swab  will usually be done in privacy, at a health clinic, doctor’s surgery or community clinic. Some health centres may offer a take-home option, but this won’t be the norm until HPV testing becomes more established.

Although cervical screening, along with HPV vaccination, has greatly reduced cervical cancer in New Zealand, around 180 people develop the disease every year and 60 die from it. Dr Chamberlain says that about 85% of those diagnosed with cervical cancer have either never been screened or have not had regular screening.

“Our hope is that this funding, combined with the new screening options, will increase participation by unscreened and under-screened groups. This includes Asian women, who generally have low rates of participation in the National Cervical Screening Programme.”

Two comprehensive media campaigns, tailored to Māori and Pacific audiences, to raise awareness of the new HPV cervical screening test will be delivered to coincide with Cervical Screening Awareness Month.

More about the new approach to Cervical Screening and HPV testing can be found here.