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Cervical screening is a free health test that helps prevent cervical cancer. It checks for cell changes (abnormalities) on your cervix caused by high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV). It is not a test for cancer.
You might hear cervical screening being called a smear test. This is just a different name for the same test.
In the UK, you are automatically invited for cervical screening if you are:
You are invited:
You may get your first invite up to 6 months before you turn 25. You can book an appointment as soon as you get the invite.
It is very rare to develop cervical cancer:
If you are worried about any symptoms, you should get them checked by your doctor or nurse, whatever your age.
It is usually recommended that you do not have cervical screening while you are or could be pregnant. Pregnancy can make the result of your test harder to interpret.
If you are invited for cervical screening while pregnant, tell your doctor or nurse you are pregnant. You should wait until 3 months after your baby is born to have the test.
If you need follow-up after an abnormal cervical screening result or treatment for cell changes (abnormalities), you may need to have the test while pregnant. Your GP or midwife may ask you to have it at your first antenatal appointment. This test will not affect your pregnancy.
Ask your doctor or nurse if you are up to date with your cervical screening. This means that any tests or treatment can be arranged around the pregnancy.
A total hysterectomy is an operation that removes the womb and cervix. If you have had a total hysterectomy, you will not be invited for cervical screening as it isn’t necessary – there is no cervix to take a sample of cells from.
If you have HIV, speak with your doctor or nurse about going for cervical screening every 1 year. HIV can make your immune system very weak, meaning it is not as able to get rid of HPV that causes most cervical cancers. Annual cervical screenings are usually taken outside of the NHS National Screening Programme.