Young women under age 25 will no longer have to have cervical smear tests from 2018.

National Screening Unit clinical director Dr Jane O'Hallahan has announced that the starting age for the tests will rise from 20 to 25 in 2018, when the test changes to a screen for the human papilloma virus (HPV).

"There is now a strong body of evidence that screening women between the ages of 20 and 24 causes more harm than good," she said.

"The primary reason for this is the HPV virus that causes more than 90 per cent of cervical cancers is common in younger age groups and typically clears up on its own.


"Harms of screening this age group includes over-diagnosis, increased stress and anxiety associated with additional tests and treatments and unnecessary colposcopy, which is associated with heightened risk of future pre-term births."

She said NZ and international experience showed that screening women aged 20 to 24 did not reduce cervical cancer mortality rates.

"Since the inception of the National Cervical Screening Programme in 1990, there has been no reduction in cervical cancer incidence rates or mortality for those aged 20-24. In contrast, there's been a marked and gradual reduction in cervical cancer rates in older age groups," she said.

"The age change is in line with that of many other countries including Australia, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and Norway. The World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer also recommends cervical screening begins at age 25.

"The HPV vaccination programme in schools offers the best protection to younger age groups from HPV infections and invasive cancer. There will be accelerated progress with the programme's coverage rates with boys also being offered the vaccination from 2017.

"We recognise that there are rare cases of younger women developing cervical cancer, however the evidence shows this is usually aggressive forms of cancer which screening would not have protected them from.

"As always, if someone outside the age group for screening notices any symptoms, such as unusual bleeding, discharge or pain, they should seek prompt medical attention."