Māori women in Canterbury urged to take advantage of life-saving cervical screening

Tuesday June 25, 2013

More than 4300 Māori women in the Canterbury District Health Board area aged 25 to 70 have had a cervical smear in the last three years.
 
Lovey Ratima-Rapson, from health and social services provider He Waka Tapu, says while this is very pleasing, there are still 48 percent of Māori women, who are not having regular cervical smear tests, compared with 25 percent of non-Māori women in Canterbury.
 
“Investing a small amount of time in having regular cervical smears can reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer by 90 percent,” Lovey says.
 
“Women who are not sure when their smear is due, or who want to become part of the National Cervical Screening Programme can ring the freephone number 0800 729 729, see www.cervicalscreening.govt.nz, or call us at He Waka Tapu on 03 373 8150.”
 
Regular cervical smear tests are recommended from the age of 20 to 70 for women who have ever been sexually active.
 
“Some recent positive results where the uptake for cervical smears was high for our wahine have been in the rural communities. In these communities there is still an element of ‘whakama’ in having a smear but also anonymity,” Lovey says.
 
“It was very good to have nurses from outside the area’ was one of a number of comments made. We know we are improving access for wahine.”
 
The human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a very common infection, causes cell changes to the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. Changes in the cervix as a result of HPV happen very slowly and may clear on their own. However, sometimes these changes can become cancer.
 
Lovey says having regular smears, every three years, means it is likely abnormal cells will be found and treated long before they progress to cancer.
 
She says some women may now be offered an HPV test when they have their cervical smear. The test helps identify women who may need further follow up with a specialist.
 
“A negative test result indicates you are unlikely to be at risk of developing cervical cancer in the next three to five years. This can reduce the need for repeat smears for women whose smears have shown mild changes or who have previously had treatment.
 
“A positive test result means a high-risk type of HPV has been found. In this case, your smear taker will talk to you about follow up, so any cell changes can be treated early.”
 
The HPV test is usually taken at the same time as the cervical smear test, using the same sample of cells, so there is no need to have a second test.
 
“It’s important for women who have had the HPV vaccine to remember to have regular cervical smears. The HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, so women who have been immunised must still have smears every three years.
 
“Equally important is the breast screening support services offered to wahine through the transport programme He Waka Tapu offer. We are currently performing 170 percent to target for transports and this is due to the whānau ora approach to supporting wahine and the positive relationships with providers.
 
“I hope all women book in for a smear if it’s due or overdue. It takes only a small amount of time, but it could save your life,” Lovey says.

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Page last reviewed: 14 February 2014
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