Specialists caution against new cancer screening

  • 11/03/2016

A group of medical experts have warned that a decision to change the cervical screening test may strain the health system and put women at risk.

The test will change from analysing cells to detect changes that indicate an increased risk of developing the cancer to screening for the human papillomavirus (HPV), Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced on Wednesday.

HPV causes more than 90 percent of cervical cancers.

But an editorial published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today advised against the decision, saying it put women at risk and also further burden the health system.

"We believe that while primary HPV screening shows promise - implementation in New Zealand in 2018 is premature and wrong," lead author and cytopathologist Peter Fitzgerald said.

"This decision could reduce the current level of cervical cancer protection and increase unnecessary referrals for assessment and treatment."

But even though the new regime will reduce the frequency of testing from every three years to every five years, the NZMJ authors said the government may end up paying more for the service.

"The debate is only around how much extra and whether the New Zealand health service can cope with the increased demand for these services," they wrote.

"We believe it is possible the primary HPV new screening algorithm may cost the Government more than it currently spends on cervical screening."

Around 160 women develop cervical cancer each year.

The new test will be introduced in 2018. What happens at a cervical smear appointment won't change.