What is it?
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It is a way 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). Early detection and treatment can prevent three quarters of cancers developing.
Signs and Symptoms
The early stages of cervical cancer may not have any symptoms. However, vaginal bleeding, contact bleeding or (rarely) a vaginal mass may indicate the presence of cancer. Also, moderate pain during sexual intercourse and vaginal discharge are symptoms of cervical cancer. In advanced disease, the cancer may spread to the abdomen, lungs or elsewhere.
It sounds embarrassing – this puts me off
Some people do find it a bit embarrassing, but the nurse or doctor doing the test will expect this and will do what they can to put you at ease. But remember, the embarrassment will only last a few minutes and it could save your life.
Does It hurt?
Many women will find the procedure uncomfortable, however, the actual method of obtaining the cells shouldn’t cause any pain. Staying relaxed and not tensing your muscles will mean that the test can be carried out as quickly as possible.
Most patients will be fine immediately after the procedure, with a small minority experiencing a very small amount of bleeding caused by the cervix being in contact with the instrument that gathers the cells, but this subsides almost straight afterwards.
Is cervical screening effective?
Whilst cervical screening cannot be 100 per cent effective, early detection and treatment thanks to smear tests can prevent three quarters of cancers developing in younger women.
Cervical screening now saves approximately 4,500 lives per year in England.
There are around 2,860* new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the UK each year, that is around 55 women every week.
Overall, cervical cancer incidence rates in Britain have almost halved in the last 20 years.
Around two thirds of women with cervical cancer survive their disease for five years or more.
Cervical cancer survival is higher in women diagnosed at a younger age. Women under 40 years of age have survival rates of more than 85%.
In the UK, it is rare for young women to die from cervical cancer; around 80% of all cervical cancer deaths occur in women aged 45 and over.
Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Long term use of the oral contraceptive pill increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Cervical screening can prevent around 75% of cancer cases in women who attend regularly
All women aged 25-64 can have a free smear test every 3-5 years. You will automatically get an invitation letter from your GP surgery when you are 25. (Make sure that your GP has your correct, current address).
You can make an appointment for a cervical smear with your GP or an alternative clinic. Please click here for a list of clinics. If you do not receive an invitation, and you would like to book a screening appointment, please contact your GP.
If you are over 25 and you have not received an invitation in the last three years please contact your GP.
I'm trying to get pregnant - should I have cervical screening?
We don't normally recommend that a woman should have cervical screening when she is (or might be) pregnant, but this would depend in an individual case on her previous history.
I have always attended for cervical screening and have never had an abnormal result. Now I'm pregnant, should I accept my invitation?
If you have a normal smear history then it's better to wait until about three months after the delivery before you go for cervical screening.
When is the best time in the menstrual cycle to have cervical screening?
Mid -cycle (usually 14 days after your last period) is the best time because a clearer background to the sample can be gained around this time.
I'm on the pill. Does this increase my risk of cervical cancer?
Evidence suggests that long-term use of combined oral contraceptives or progestogen-only injectable contraceptives is associated with a small increased risk of cervical cancer.
Why isn't cervical screening offered to women who are under 25?
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.
I'm not sexually active - do I still need cervical screening?
The evidence shows that if a woman has never been sexually active then her risk of developing cervical cancer is very low indeed. We don't say 'no risk' just 'low risk'.
Do I have to go to my GP practice for cervical screening?
No, you can also have a cervical screening test at a well woman, family planning clinic, or you could go to the genito-urinary medicine (GUM) department of a hospital. However, if you are over 25 and you have not received an invitation in the last three years you should contact your GP.
To book an appointment for a cervical smear please contact your GP.