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Cervical Screening Start Age Changing to 25

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From November 2019, the cervical screening start age is changing from 20 to 25 years, as advised by the National Cervical Screening Programme. The age change is supported by strong clinical evidence that screening women in the 20 to 24 year age group is not effective at preventing cervical cancer.

Starting screening before 25 is not recommended by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. This change will also bring New Zealand in line with international best practice, joining Australia, England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and Norway in commencing screening at 25 years.

Dr Jane O’Hallahan, Clinical Director of the National Screening Unit, explains that cervical cancers in women under 25 years are rare and may not be prevented by screening. In fact, since our screening programme began in 1990, there has been no reduction in the rate of disease in 20 to 24 year olds, despite significant reductions in cancer rates for older women. Screening women aged 20 to 24 years can result in investigating and treating abnormalities that often resolve on their own, thereby exposing young women to potentially unnecessary treatment.

In addition, the availability of the human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation means that increasing numbers of women in this age group are protected against HPV, the virus that causes most cervical cancers. It is important that women who have received HPV immunisation continue to participate in screening because not all types of HPV that can cause cancer are in the vaccine. Combining HPV immunisation with cervical screening from age 25 provides the most effective protection against cervical cancer.

Who will be affected by the age change:

The change will mainly affect women under 25 who have never been screened, as they will no longer be invited to join the programme. As cancer risks rise significantly after age 25, it is important that women commence screening around the time they turn 25.

Women under 25 who have already started cervical screening will be recalled to continue screening under the current programme.

What you need to know:

  • From November 2019, individuals will be invited to join the cervical screening programme as they turn 25 years of age (or from six months before their 25th birthday).
  • Any person with a cervix who has ever been sexually active should be having regular cervical screening tests.
  • You can choose where you complete your screening test ie, your regular practice, local Family Planning clinic or any other primary healthcare provider.
  • Anyone aged 20 to 24 years who have already started screening will continue to be offered screening in accordance with the current programme guidelines.
  • Women of any age who have symptoms such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, persistent discharge or pelvic pain, should see their health care provider directly, to arrange appropriate investigation.

To find out more about the age change or cervical screening, please visit www.timetoscreen.nz