Cervical screening (smear test)

Each year around five million women in the UK are invited for cervical screening (smear test). Cervical screening is NOT a test to find cancer. It is a screening test to detect abnormalities (pre-cancer) at an early stage in the cells in the cervix.

Please take up your invitation to attend your cervical screening test, it saves lives.

Cervical screening is the process of taking a sample of cells from your cervix which are then examined to detect abnormalities that might develop into cancer in the future. The sample of cells is placed in liquid so that it can be analysed in the laboratory. This process is called liquid based cytology (LBC). Screening can detect precancerous/abnormal cells and the detection and successful treatment of these cells usually prevents the occurrence of cancer. Changes in these cells are generally caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Testing for the HPV virus itself can also be done on the same LBC sample that is examined under the microscope, although at the moment this is not done routinely on all samples in the UK. For more information on HPV testing click here.

Around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in UK each year [1]. Regular cervical screening provides a high degree of protection against developing cervical cancer and is offered free on the NHS. It is estimated that early detection and treatment through cervical screening can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers from developing in the UK [2]. Not going for cervical screening is one of the biggest risk factors for developing cervical cancer.


  1. Cancer Research UK website: Accessed 30.05.2013.
  2. Peto et al., 2004. The cervical cancer epidemic that screening has prevented in the UK. Lancet, 35, 249-56.
Date last updated: 
31 May 2013
Date due for review: 
29 May 2015