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Cervical screening (a smear test) is a free health test that helps prevent cervical cancer. It checks for a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cell changes (abnormal cells).
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Cervical screening is a free health test available on the NHS as part of the national cervical screening programme. It helps prevent cervical cancer by checking for a virus called high-risk HPV and cervical cell changes. It is not a test for cancer.
It is your choice whether to go for cervical screening. We hope this information helps you make the best decision for you and your health.
If you have symptoms, see your GP for an examination. Cervical screening is not for people who have symptoms.
You should be invited for cervical screening if you have a cervix. Women are usually born with a cervix, and trans men, non-binary and intersex people may also have one.
In the UK, you are automatically invited for cervical screening if you are:
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.
Your cervical screening result will help decide when you are next invited for cervical screening.
You may be invited:
You are invited for cervical screening because evidence shows that the benefits of the test outweigh any risks. Along with the HPV vaccine, cervical screening is the best way to protect against cervical cancer – and prevents over 7 in 10 diagnoses.However, like any screening test, cervical screening is not perfect and there are some risks.
It is hard to know exactly how many people are affected by these risks. But we do know, for those aged 25 to 64, the benefits of cervical screening outweigh the risks and most results will be clear.
If you decide not have cervical screening, ask your GP to be taken off their invite list. If you change your mind, you can ask your GP to add you back to the list at any time.
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is an independent charity and cannot opt you out of the National Cervical Screening Programme.
There is no difference between cervical screening and a smear test. They are two different names for the same test.
A smear test is the older name for the test. It was called that because of the way the test used to be done – cells were smeared on a glass slide, which was sent to the laboratory for testing.
The test is different now and most healthcare professionals call it cervical screening. Your letter will invite you to attend cervical screening, which is why we call it that in our information.
No. Cervical screening is only designed to find high-risk HPV or cervical cell changes which, if not monitored or treated, may eventually develop into cervical cancer. It does not check for other conditions or any cancers.
It is very rare to develop cervical cancer under the age of 25. It is also rare to develop cervical cancer over the age of 64, if you have had regular cervical screening.
Cervical screening is not for people with symptoms. If you are worried about symptoms, see your GP for an examination.
All women and people with a cervix between age 25 and 64 can go for regular cervical screening, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Most cervical cell changes and cervical cancers are caused by persistent infection with HPV. As HPV can be passed on through any skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, anyone having any kind of sex is at risk of getting it.
If you have previously had treatment that affected your cervix for any reason, you may will no longer be invited for cervical screening. These treatments include:
After these treatments, your healthcare team may want you to have a different test called a vault smear. This takes a sample of cells from your vagina and tests them to check that they are healthy. Whether you are offered vault smears and how long you are offered them for depends on your individual situation.
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, 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.
HIV can make your immune system very weak, meaning it is not as able to get rid of HPV that causes most cervical cancers. If you have HIV, speak with your healthcare team about going for cervical screening every year. Annual cervical screenings are usually taken outside of the NHS National Screening Programme.
We know that cervical screening isn’t easy for everyone and we have lots of support available if you are worried about the test.
Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.
We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]
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