Cervical screening | Whakamātautau waha kōpū

Also known as a cervical smear

Key points about cervical screening

  • Cervical screening (whakamātautau waha kōpū) is a test that looks for abnormal changes to the cells of the lower end of your uterus (cervix).
  • Treatment can be given before the abnormal cells develop into cancer.
2 smiling Māori wahine

Cervical screening involves having a sample of cells taken from your cervix. These are then examined closely under a microscope. Some abnormal changes can get better on their own, others may need treatment to prevent the cells from developing into cervical cancer. Studies have shown that up to 90% of cervical cancers can be prevented by regular cervical screening.


Image credit: 123RF

Cervical screening is recommended if you:

  • are a woman or trans or non-binary person with a cervix
  • are aged between 25 and 69
  • have ever been sexually active. 

If you have had a hysterectomy (removal of your uterus/womb), check with your health provider whether you still need to be screened. 

If you are aged 70 years or older and were not regularly screened before the age of 70, you may be at risk of having undetected cervical abnormalities. In this case, two samples should be taken after the age of 70, and screening can stop if both results are normal. 

Before 1 November 2019, people aged 20–24 years of age were also screened, but the evidence shows that screening provides little benefit in this age group. People under 25 who have started screening should continue to be screened. 

Māori and Pasifika women have lower rates of cervical screening. Prevention is key whānau mā. 

The Māori cervical screening campaign(external link) tells real and relevant local stories by going to where wāhine Māori are. It aims to raise awareness of cervical cancer and encourages women to get tested. The campaign acknowledges the sacredness of te whare tangata and the importance for wāhine to focus on their own health and that of their whānau. 

Watch this zoom quiz video to learn about who should have cervical screening.

(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2022)

When it comes to Pasifika women, there’s no one size fits all. We are made up of many nationalities and cultures. One thing we have in common, across the islands, is our sense of sisterhood. Our sisters tell us the truth honestly and respectfully. That’s why we’re asking you to listen to your sisters when they tell you to look after your health.

In this video Samoan mother, grandmother and Faletua, Mativa, talks about how cervical screening has become an integral part of her healthcare. 

(Te Whatu Ora, Health New Zealand, 2023)   

View transcript (external link)

You can watch more videos on this page.(external link)

Having the test only takes a few minutes. Some people find it a little uncomfortable, but it should not hurt. It’s best to avoid having the test during your menstrual period.

Here’s how it usually works:

  1. The health professional doing the test will discuss what will happen with you – make sure they have explained it clearly.
  2. You can lie on your side or your back (whichever is more comfortable) with your knees bent up. Let the smear taker know what works best for you.
  3. It’s up to you how modest you want to be – cover up with the sheet provided if it feels better.
  4. They will open your vagina gently with a plastic or metal speculum.
  5. They will then use a small, soft brush to take a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix.
  6. Once that's done, you can get dressed.
  7. They will tell you how you will get your results.
  8. Your test sample is sent to a laboratory and checked for any cell changes.
  9. Your results will be sent to your health clinic after a couple of weeks.
  10. Further tests or treatment will be arranged if your results show that you need it.
You may find it a little bit uncomfortable, but if you feel pain or discomfort at any time let the person taking your test know straight away. If cervical screening is usually uncomfortable or painful, talk to your healthcare provider about options.

Image credit: Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health, NZ 

Tips to help make things easier

Having a cervical smear can feel a bit awkward. Everyone has their own way of making it work. You may find the following tips help make your experience more comfortable:

  • wear a skirt you can leave on
  • use the sheet or blanket provided to keep yourself covered and comfortable
  • ask for a female smear taker
  • ask whether someone from your culture can carry out the test for you
  • try to breathe deeply and relax your legs
  • try lying on your side
  • take a friend or whānau member for support
  • get your test done with a friend.

See more information: Having a cervical smear test(external link) National Cervical Screening Programme, NZ

You can be tested at:

Phone 0800 729 729 for local options in your area. 

After they have been collected, your cervical cells are sent to a laboratory where they are checked for any abnormal changes. The sample may also be tested for HPV (human papilloma virus). A report is sent to your healthcare provider who will tell you about the results.

Follow-up tests may be needed if there are any abnormalities. Read more about your results and the next steps if there are abnormalities: 

There is always a small chance that some abnormal cells may not be found by the test. Abnormal changes to the cervical cells progress very slowly, so it is very likely that any abnormal cells that are missed will be picked up at the next test.

The National Cervical Screening Programme, set up in 1990, aims to reduce the number of people in Aotearoa 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 promoting and coordinating cervical screening services, and the provision of laboratory and colposcopy services (for the management of people with abnormal results).

For more information visit the National Cervical Screening website(external link) or freephone 0800 729 729.

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(external link) Time to Screen, NZ
Why have regular smear tests(external link) Time to Screen, NZ
Māori cervical screening campaign(external link) Time to Screen, NZ

Related topics

Cervical cancer | Mate pukupuku waha kōpū
HPV testing
Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Age range change for cervical screening

In November 2019 the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP) changed the recommended starting age for cervical screening from 20 to 25 years. People aged between 20 and 24 who have already been screened should continue with screening.

Learn more 


Clinical guidelines and resources

The updated Clinical practice guidelines for cervical screening in NZ 2020(external link) outline the management of people with abnormal cervical screening results and incorporate key National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP) policies related to cervical screening, and colposcopy assessment and treatment services. 

Training options 


Continuing professional development

e-learning – Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

The National Cervical Screening Programme has produced a learning module aimed at smear takers, GPs, practice nurses and immunisation providers. The module provides participants with knowledge of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the HPV vaccine. It will "assist you with knowing when to order an HPV test as part of regular cervical screening, and discussing the results of those tests with women".

Webinar – cervical screening(external link) (Goodfellow Unit, NZ, 2017) 

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Alice Miller, FRNZCGP, Wellington

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