The three-yearly primary cervical screening test is set to change to screening for human papillomavirus (HPV) every five years.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced the changes today and said they were expected to reduce the number of annual cervical cancer deaths. He said from 2018, the test would change from analysing cells to detect changes that could indicate an increased risk of developing cervical cancer, to screening for HPV - the virus which causes more than 90 per cent of cervical cancers.

"What happens at a women's cervical smear appointment will not change. The new test means that women only need to be tested every five years as opposed to three as the HPV test is more sensitive," Dr Coleman said.

The Ministry of Health consulted the sector and the public last year on changing the primary cervical screening test.


"While New Zealand has one of the most successful cervical screening programmes in the world, there's always scope to further improve screening," he said.

Around 160 women develop cervical cancer each year.

"Testing for HPV is internationally recognised as a better primary test for cervical screening. A number of countries are implementing HPV screening including Australia, the UK and the Netherlands.

"HPV vaccination combined with screening provides the best protection. Changing the test is expected to further reduce cervical cancer deaths by 16 per cent in unvaccinated women and 12 per cent in vaccinated women."

The ministry held 13 meetings around the country on the proposed changes and a total of 87 submissions were received.

"I'd like to thank members of the public and health sector for their constructive engagement during the consultation process," said Dr Coleman.

"The ministry will continue to work with the public and the sector to ensure a smooth transition to the new testing regime in 2018. Cytology will continue to have an important place in cervical screening."