This information regarding cervical screening applies to all people with a cervix, inclusive of those who identify as men (transmen).
Nearly all people with smear abnormalities have had HPV in the cervix, vagina or vulva (the area around the vaginal opening). Many people are concerned about the link between cervical cancer and HPV, but an abnormal cervical smear hardly ever means cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer can be prevented by the HPV vaccine and having regular cervical screening.
Cervical screening is also commonly known as a “Pap smear” or “smear test” but is now called cervical screening.
From the age of 25*, regular cervical screening is encouraged. The main focus of the HPV screening programme is to pick up on the increased risk of developing cervical cancer well before any actual danger manifests.
The primary function of cervical screening is to detect cell changes – not to test for an HPV infection.
Changes to cells in the cervix happen very slowly – so by having regular cervical screening, any abnormal cells will be found and treated long before they become cancer.
The smear test involves taking cells from the surface of the cervix and then examining them to see if they are normal or have changed in some way. If some cells have changed, the test will indicate how they have changed and what the risks are.
It is from a cervical smear that most people usually find out that they have HPV, however, others will find out because they have developed genital warts. It is impossible to know how HPV is transmitted to any particular person even through cervical screening.
It is hard to view an abnormal smear test as a good thing, but on the positive side regular screening picks up early changes that can be monitored and treated.
*From November 2019, the cervical screening start age in New Zealand changed from 20 to 25 years.
For further information about the National Cervical Screening Programme in New Zealand:
All you need to know about your first cervical screen and why it's important
Cervical Smears and Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV)