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After cervical screening (a smear test), your sample of cervical cells is sent to a laboratory for testing. How your sample is tested depends on where you live in the UK. The types of testing are:
Our body is made up of cells – you can think of them as the building blocks of our body. Cytology is the study of individual cells in the body. In cervical screening, this means the sample of cervical cells taken during your test is looked at for changes.
If cell changes are found, what happens next depends on where you live:
If borderline or low-grade cell changes are found, the same sample is tested for high-risk HPV that causes most (99.7%) cervical cancers.
If high-grade cell changes are found, you are invited to colposcopy at your local hospital, where a specialist takes a closer look at your cervix.
If any kind of cell changes are found, the sample is not tested again and you are invited to colposcopy.
From September 2018, Wales started using HPV primary testing to test cervical screening samples (see below).
This is sometimes called HPV primary screening or HPV testing. It is a test that looks at your sample for high-risk HPV that can cause cervical cells to change (abnormal cells).
HPV primary testing helps identify who is more at risk of developing cell changes or cervical cancer.
If high-risk HPV is not found, your sample does not need to be looked at for cell changes, as it is very unlikely you have or will develop them.
If high-risk HPV is found, the same sample will be looked at for cell changes:
HPV primary testing started in Wales in September 2018. In the rest of the UK, it is starting:
Like all screening tests, HPV primary testing isn't 100% accurate. But the margin of error (between 5% and 10%) is small.