Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus or womb. Cervical cancer develops slowly over time, usually taking many years, when abnormal cells grow on the cervix. These abnormal cells are caused by infection with high-risk types of human papilloma virus (HPV). Abnormalities in the cells of the cervix can be detected by cervical screening and removed. Each year there are around 25,000 abnormal smear test results among New Zealand women.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
The symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
➜ Bleeding after menopause
➜ Bleeding between periods
➜ Heavier periods than normal
➜ Abnormal vaginal discharge
➜ Painful sex, or bleeding after sex
If you have any of these symptoms see your doctor.
Screening remains the single most effective intervention against cervical cancer. Cervical screening has had a dramatic impact on the incidence of cervical cancer and cervical cancer deaths in developed countries including New Zealand.
All women are eligible for screening in New Zealand, this includes:
➜ Women who have never been sexually active
➜ Women who have sex with women
➜ Women who have not been sexually active for many years
➜ Women who have had a hysterectomy but still have a cervix
Women aged 70 and over who have never had a cervical smear test are advised to have a smear test followed by another a year later. If both tests are normal no further tests are needed.
Where can I get a smear test done?
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.
National Screening Unit » information on New Zealand’s screening program
National Cancer Institute » detailed information on cervical cancer and screening