The aim of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme is to reduce the number of women who develop cervical cancer and the number of women who die from the condition.
A cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.
Being screened regularly means any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing.
All women who are registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening:
- aged 25 to 49 – every 3 years
- aged 50 to 64 – every 5 years
- over 65 – only women who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests
Screening is usually carried out by the practice nurse at your GP clinic. You can ask to have a female doctor or nurse. The cervical screening test usually takes around 5 minutes to carry out.
When you are invited for cervical screening, try to book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle (usually 14 days from the start of your last period), as this can ensure a better sample of cells is taken. It’s best to make your appointment for when you don’t have your period.
If you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricant jelly, you shouldn’t use these for 24 hours before the test, as the chemicals they contain may affect the test.