Cervical Screening

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme, introduced in 1988, screens more than three million women. It saves around 4,500 lives every year. Screening is used to detect abnormal cells on the cervix (the neck of the womb). Cervical cancer is one of the few preventable cancers, because screening picks up pre-cancerous changes. The test prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers.

Who is the screening for?

Screening is offered to women aged 25 to 49 every three years and to women aged 50 to 64 every five years. 


What does the test involve?

The doctor or nurse will insert a speculum into your vagina to view the neck of your cervix and collect a sample of cells using a swab to send to the laboratory.

Remember to make your appointment for the middle of your menstrual cycle (i.e. halfway between periods) and don't have sex for 24 hours before the test.


You will receive your results in writing and you can ask the person taking your screening test when to expect them.

Nine out of ten screening tests are normal. Occasionallya result may be classed as ‘inadequate’, which means your sample could notbe read. One in ten cell samples are described as ‘abnormal’.

There are various grades of abnormality, but it is extremely rare for an abnormal result to showthat cancer has already developed. In many cases, cell changes can be left toreturn to normal by themselves but sometimes treatment may be necessary to prevent the abnormal cells developing.

If you have an abnormal screening result, you may be recalled early for another screening test, given a colposcopy (an examination of the cervix using a special microscope) or treatment to remove the abnormal cells.


Who to contact

For more information about cervical screening, contact your doctor.