Cervical smears

A woman’s best protection against developing cervical cancer is having regular cervical smear tests.

A cervical smear test is a screening test to find abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Having regular smear tests can reduce a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer by 90%.

All women who have ever been sexually active should have regular cervical smear tests from the time they turn 20 until they turn 70.

Women who have had a total hysterectomy don’t usually need to have smear tests unless advised to do so.

Cervical smears are available from general practitioners or nurses, marae-based or other Māori health centres, Pacific and women’s health centres, and Family Planning clinics. The cost of a smear test is similar to the cost of seeing a doctor or nurse. Some community organisations offer a free or low-cost service.

Changes to cells in the cervix happen very slowly – so by having regular smears, there is a very high likelihood that any abnormal cells will be found and treated long before they become cancer.

  • The National Cervical Screening Programme recommends that women have a cervical smear test every 3 years.
  • Women who have previously had abnormal smears may need to have them more often – if you’re unsure, ask your doctor.

To find out more about the cervical cancer screening programme, talk to your doctor, practice nurse or health clinic, or visit the Time to Screen website.


Cervical Screening cover image.
Cervical Screening: What You Need to Know
Available on HealthEd in English and Japanese.

Colposcopy cover image.
Colposcopy: Information for women
Available on HealthEd.

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