There are around 3,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK. While it is more common in women between the ages of 30 -45 years, it can develop in sexually active women at any age. Cervical cancer is rare in women under the age of 25.
A cervical screening test ( also known as a smear test) is performed to detect abnormal cells on the cervix which is the neck of the womb. It is performed to check the health of the cells in the cervix -it is NOT a test for cancer.
Around 1 in 20 women will have some abnormal changes in these cells. The majority of these changes do NOT lead to cancer and often the cells return to normal without any treatment. Sometimes these cells do need to be removed so they do not become cancerous.
The NHS Cervical Screening Programme was introduced in the 1980’s to offer FREE cervical screening to all women registered with a GP between the ages of 25-65.
Since the introduction of this programme, the number of cases of cervical cancer has decreased by 7 % each year.
Regular screening allows any abnormalities to be identified and treated at an early stage to prevent them developing into cancer. While cervical screening isn’t 100% accurate, and does not detect all types of cervical cancer, it is the best way to pick up any abnormal cells and refer for further treatment or investigation.
Ideally, the test should be performed mid cycle- i.e. 14 days after your last menstrual period and not during a period. If you normally use a spermicide or lubricant during intercourse, this should be avoided for 24 hours prior to the test because the chemicals they contain can affect the results. After a few simple questions about your sexual health, you will be asked to undress from the waste down and lie down on a couch. A small instrument called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina to allow the nurse to visualise your cervix. Some cells will be collected from the surface of the cervix using a small soft brush. Some ladies find the test uncomfortable but for the majority of women it is not painful. The results should be back within 7-10 days and your named nurse will arrange how you would best like to receive these results.