Cervical screening

What is cervical screening?

  • Cervical screening, or a smear test, checks the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina.
  • Screenings look for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause abnormal cells on the cervix – It is not a test for cancer it is a test to help prevent cancer.
  • All women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 should be invited via letter to book an appointment.
  • The first invitation is sent to eligible people at the age of 24.5 years. People aged 25 to 49 receive invitations every 3 years while people aged 50 to 64 are invited every 5 years.

What happens during the screening?

  • During a screening appointment a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix.
  • This sample is checked for certain types of HPV that can cause changes to these cells – these are known as ‘high risk’ types of HPV.
    • If these are not found, you will not need any further tests and will be routinely invited again in 3 or 5 years.
    • If these types of HPV are found the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix. These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.
    • Finding high risk HPV early means you can be monitored for abnormal cell changes and these abnormal changes can be treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.
  • The test itself should take less than 5 minutes and will always be completed by a female nurse. Before the test starts, they will explain exactly what will happen during the test and answer any questions you may have.
  • You are always in control during the screening process and can ask the nurse to stop at any time.
  • Do not be embarrassed or afraid to talk to the nurse – telling them how you feel will help them to understand the kind of support you might need.

There are several different results you can receive after a cervical screening:

No HPV found – this means you don’t have high risk HPV. You will be invited back for a routine screening test in 3 or 5 years depending on age

HPV found with no cell changes – this means you have high-risk HPV, but you do not have changes to your cervical cells. You will be invited for more regular screening test to check the HPV has gone, this usually happens within 12 months

HPV found with cell changes – this means you have HPV and cervical cell changes You will be invited to go for a colposcopy and further tests

  • Sometimes you may be asked to come back in 3 months to have the test again. This does not mean there is anything wrong, it is because the results were unclear.
  • Try not to worry if it is taking a long time to get your results letter. It does not mean anything is wrong, and most people will have a normal result.

It is your choice if you want to attend a cervical screening, but it is one of the best ways to protect you from cervical cancer. If you do not want to be invited for screening you can contact the surgery and we can remove you from the recall list.

If you would like any more information, you can visit Cervical screening – NHS (www.nhs.uk)