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In the UK, you are invited for cervical screening (a smear test) from age 25 until age 64. Cervical screening is not recommended for anyone under 25 years old.
You may get your first invite up to 6 months before you turn 25 – if you do, you don’t have to wait to book an appointment.
Cervical cancer is very rare in under-25s. In the UK, about 65 out of 3,207 people diagnosed with cervical cancer are under the age of 25 – that means about 2 out of every 100 diagnosed are under 25.
Cervical screening hasn’t been shown to reduce the number of cases of cervical cancer in people under the age of 25. We know this because in countries where cervical screening starts at 20 years old, the number of people under 25 diagnosed with cervical cancer is not significantly different than in countries that start screening at 25 years old.
The number of cases of under-25s diagnosed with cervical cancer is likely to fall even further over the next 10 years thanks to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
Research suggests that the risks of offering cervical screening under the age of 25 outweigh the benefits. When you are under 25, it is common to have changes in the cells of your cervix (abnormalities) and these usually go away by themselves.
Knowing about these cell changes could lead to treatment when the changes may simply have gone away on their own. It can also lead to anxiety or upset.
There are also potential risks with some treatments, although more research is needed in this area.
Although cervical cancer is very rare if you are under 25, it is important for all of us to be aware of cervical cancer symptoms, including:
Remember, things other than cervical cancer could cause all of these symptoms. For example, abnormal vaginal bleeding is very common and can happen for lots of different reasons that are not linked to cancer, including:
If you have any symptoms, don’t ignore them! It is important to see your doctor or nurse as soon as possible. Remember it is unlikely to be cervical cancer, but it’s still very important to get it checked out.
The NHS has guidelines for doctors and nurses to support young women and people with a cervix aged 20 to 24. It says you should be offered a pelvic examination by a doctor or nurse if:
The guidelines explain the types of questions that doctors and nurses should ask to find out whether the symptoms could be related to cervical cancer.
If you think it would help, you could print it off and take it your doctor or nurse, or show it to them on your phone or tablet.
Some people find it embarrassing to talk about gynaecological problems. If you feel like this, you are not alone. But remember your doctor or nurse talk about these things all the time, so won’t be embarrassed. If you want, you can take someone you trust with you for support during your appointment.
If you have symptoms you are worried about or have heard stories about a young person getting cervical cancer, you may feel very anxious about not being able to have cervical screening. Remember, there is support in place if you do have symptoms and your doctor or nurse should be able to offer the right help and guidance.