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In England, Scotland, and Wales, cervical screening (smear tests) uses HPV primary screening. This is a way of testing the sample of cells taken at your appointment. It tests for a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cervical cell changes to develop into cervical cancer.
HPV causes 99.7% of cervical cancers, so testing for it at cervical screening is the most accurate and sensitive way to find out who is at a higher risk of developing cervical cell changes or cervical cancer. Find out about HPV testing >
In Northern Ireland, the cervical screening programme still uses cytology as the first test on cervical screening samples this means that the cells taken during your appointment are looked at under a microscope for any cell changes.
The UK National Screening Committee recommends HPV primary screening to be used in cervical screening. Northern Ireland have committed to moving to this testing method but are yet to provide a timeline for when this might happen.
We want every woman and person with a cervix get the best healthcare possible. We know there are plans to move to HPV primary testing at some point in the future, but no date has been set yet, and it has been 5 years since the change was first recommended.
The below shows how screening currently works in Northern Ireland: