Womens Health

 Jo’s Trust website - Cervical Screening Programme


Women are routinely invited to have cervical screening tests (also called smear tests). The tests are done to prevent cervical cancer, not to diagnose cancer. During each test some cells are removed from the neck of the womb (cervix), with a plastic brush. The cells are examined under a microscope to look for early changes that, if ignored and not treated, could develop into cancer of the cervix. You are very unlikely to develop cervical cancer if you have regular cervical screening tests at the times advised by your doctor. If the test shows any abnormality, you will have treatment to stop you ever getting cancer of the cervix. So, an abnormal test does not mean you have cancer. It means you should have some treatment to stop you getting cancer

Cervical cancer is a disease that can often be prevented. Early changes can be detected in the neck of the womb (cervix), which indicate that cancer may develop. Since screening started, the numbers of cases of cervical cancer have dramatically dropped, and so have the number of women dying from it. Cancer of the cervix is now only the seventeenth most common cancer in women in the UK, whereas across the world it is the third or fourth most common cancer. This is because of the screening programme. It is one of the few types of cancer which can be detected and stopped before it ever begins.

The cervical screening test is not a cancer test. The test is used to detect early abnormalities of the cervix which, if untreated, could lead to cervical cancer in the future.

In most women the cells that are taken are found to be normal. Abnormal cells are found in some women. An abnormal result does not mean cancer in the vast majority of cases.

  • Routine recall (repeat screening test):
    • England, Wales and Northern Ireland: three-yearly tests from age 25 to age 49. Five-yearly tests from age 50 to 64. Screening stops at age 65.
    • Scotland: three-yearly tests from age 20 to age 60.
  • Women over 65 years of age should be screened if:
    • They have not had a cervical screening test since the age of 50.
    • A recent cervical screening test has been abnormal

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