Cervical screening

Cervical Screening

Cervical screening, often referred to as a smear test, is a medical procedure designed to protect individuals from cervical cancer. The test is not intended to diagnose cancer but to prevent it by detecting early changes in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.

Regular cervical screening is recommended for all people with a cervix aged 25 to 64, as it is one of the best ways to identify any abnormal changes early, significantly reducing the risk of developing cervical cancer.

How Does Surgical Screening Work?


Cervical screening involves collecting a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix. This procedure is crucial because it detects the presence of high-risk types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a group of viruses that can cause changes in cervical cells. These changes, if left untreated, could potentially develop into cervical cancer.

If the test detects a specific type of HPV which is “high risk,” then the sample will be checked for changes to the cells in the cervix. Doctors can then treat you before these cells can turn into cervical cancer.

The Procedure


If you are between the ages of 25 and 64 and are registered with a GP, you will receive an invitation letter from them asking you to come in for cervical screening when appropriate. You should book an appointment as soon as you receive this letter.

On the day of your appointment, wear comfortable clothing. You may want to choose something like a skirt or a long jumper that you can leave on during the test.

During the Test


  • Upon arrival, the doctor or nurse will ask you to undress from the waist down behind a screen and lie back on a bed, usually with your legs bent and knees apart.

  • A healthcare professional, usually a female nurse or doctor, will gently insert a speculum into your vagina. This instrument helps to hold the vagina open so that the cervix is visible.

  • A soft brush is then used to collect a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix.

  • The whole process is quick, takes less than five minutes, and is generally not painful, though some might find it uncomfortable.

  • After the nurse or doctor takes the sample, they will remove the speculum, and you can get dressed.
Cervical Screening

After the Test


  • Immediately after the procedure, you might experience some spotting or light bleeding, which is normal.

  • Results are typically sent by post within a few weeks. The healthcare provider will inform you when to expect them.

  • If the test shows no high-risk HPV, you'll be invited for another screening in 3 or 5 years.

  • If high-risk HPV is found, further testing or monitoring may be recommended.

Who is at Risk?


Certain factors increase the risk of developing cervical cell changes and, subsequently, cervical cancer.

Key risk factors include:

  • Age: Anyone with a cervix who is between the ages of 25 and 64 is at risk.

  • Sexual History: Since HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, anyone who has had sexual contact is at risk. This includes all types of sexual activity, not just penetrative sex.

  • HPV Prevalence: Most people will get some type of HPV during their lives, making it a widespread risk factor.

When Will You Be Invited for Screening?


The NHS provides clear guidelines on when individuals should get screened based on age:

  • Under 25 Years:A Screening is not typically offered, as cervical cancer is extremely uncommon in this age group.

  • Ages 25 to 49: Screening is recommended every three years.

  • Ages 50 to 64: Screening is recommended every five years.

  • 65 Years and Older: Screening invitations stop unless recent tests have been abnormal.

Personal Choice


Getting cervical screening is a personal choice; you don’t have to get tested if you don’t want to. However, cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect against cervical cancer.

When to Get in Touch


If you are between 25 and 65, and you want to talk to a GP or health care professional about cervical screening, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. They will be able to provide you with more detailed information and offer advice based on your age and health history. You can also talk to a health practitioner if you don’t want to be invited for cervical screening.

If you live in London and aren’t yet registered for a GP, you can click here to register at any time. 

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