Cervical Screening: Smear Tests
Women aged between 25 and 64 should have a cervical screening every 3 to 5 years to help prevent cervical cancer. The screening is quick and can be done here in the practice.
If you are aged over 25 and have never had a smear test, or if it has been more than 3 to 5 years since your last screening, you should arrange an appointment with our Practice Nurse. You should not have the test while you are having a period or in the 4 days before or after your period as this can affect the sample.
What is cervical screening?
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It is a method of preventing cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could lead to cancer in a woman's cervix (the neck of the womb).
Cervical screening looks for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which can lead to abnormal cells on the cervix.
The test will take a small sample of cells from the cervix. If HPV is found then the sample will be further checked for changes in these cells. These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.If no changes are found then a follow up screen is arranged for 12 months. This will check to see whether the individual’s immune system has cleared the HPV virus.
Early detection and treatment can prevent 75 per cent of cancers developing but like other screening tests, it is not perfect. It may not always detect early cell changes that could lead to cancer.
Who is eligible for cervical screening?
All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every three to five years. The NHS call and recall system invites women who are registered with a GP. It also keeps track of any follow-up investigation, and, if all is well, recalls the woman for screening in three or five years time. It is therefore important that all women ensure their GP has their correct name and address details and inform them if these change.
Women who have not had a recent test may be offered one when they attend their GP or family planning clinic on another matter. Women should receive their first invitation for routine screening just before their 25th birthday.
Why are women under 25 not invited?
This is because changes in the young cervix are normal. If they were thought to be abnormal this could lead to unnecessary treatment which could have consequences for women's childbearing. Any abnormal changes can be easily picked up and treated from the age of 25. Rarely, younger women experience symptoms such as unexpected bleeding or bleeding after intercourse. In this case they should see their GP for advice.
Why are women over 65 not invited?
Women aged 65 and over who have had three consecutive negative results are taken out of the call recall system. The natural history and progression of cervical cancer means it is highly unlikely that such women will go on to develop the disease. Women aged 65 and over who have never had a test are entitled to one.
What about women who are not sexually active?
If you've never had any kind of sexual contact with a man or woman, you may decide not to go for cervical screening when you are invited. But you can still have a test if you want one.
You're still at risk of cervical cancer if:
- you have had the HPV vaccine – it does not protect you from all types of HPV, so you're still at risk of cervical cancer
- you have only had 1 sexual partner – you can get HPV the first time you're sexually active
- you have had the same partner, or not had sex, for a long time – you can have HPV for a long time without knowing it
- you're a lesbian or bisexual – you're at risk if you have had any sexual contact
- you're a trans man with a cervix – read about if trans men should have cervical screening
- you have had a partial hysterectomy that did not remove all of your cervix
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