19-24 June 2023
Try not to put off your cervical screening test. It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.
Cervical screening tests for human papillomavirus (HPV) are usually conducted every 3 to 5 years, dependant on age, unless otherwise stated by your doctor or gynaecologist. This is a very common virus, and most people get it at some point in their life. Some types of HPV can cause abnormal cells in the cervix, which can turn into cancer.
If HPV is found in a screening sample, it is then checked for abnormal cells. By finding and treating these early, most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented.
Do you find cervical screening difficult? Does it leave you feeling anxious and unable to attend? Information and support for people who find it difficult to attend cervical screening can be found by visiting cervical screening: support for people who feel anxious about attending.
For more information about the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, visit: NHS cervical screening information.
How painful is cervical screening?
Cervical screening should not hurt but can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable.
What is the cervical screening (smear test) looking for?
A cervical smear test checks for abnormal cell changes in the cervix. Cervical cell changes are common, and often improve naturally. But sometimes these changes need treatment because there is a risk they may develop into cancer.
How your cervical smear sample is tested depends on where you are in the UK.
In England, Scotland and Wales, the sample is tested for a virus called HPV first. Samples that show high-risk HPV are then checked under a microscope for abnormal cells.
In Northern Ireland, the sample is checked for abnormal cells first.
Wherever you have your smear test, the aim is to find the small number of people who need treatment to prevent cancer.
Is cervical screening necessary?
YES, YES and YES.
Abnormal cell changes in the cervix cause no symptoms. You will not know if you have them unless you have cervical screening. Screening finds abnormal cell changes, including the ones that are most likely to become cancer. These cells can then be treated. This is an effective way of preventing cervical cancer.
Cervical screening is important to have, even if you have had the HPV vaccination. The vaccination protects against the most common types of high-risk HPV that cause cervical cancers. But it does not protect against all types.
What is the difference between a smear test and cervical screening?
A smear test is the test to collect a sample of cells from the cervix. It is also often called a cervical screening test.
Cervical screening means using the smear test, and if needed another test called a colposcopy, to find the cervical cell changes that are most likely to become cancer. These cells can then be treated to prevent cervical cancer developing.
Do you have to prepare for a smear test?
You do not need to prepare in any way for a smear test. You may find it helpful to wear loose and comfortable clothing that you can remove easily.
You will usually be given information before your test about preparing for a smear test. This may include:
- Planning your appointment for a day you do not have a period.
- Avoiding vaginal medications, lubricants and creams for 2 days before the test.
If you are worried about an upcoming cervical screening test, it may help to talk to someone about your concerns. This could be a friend or relative, or healthcare professional. Your GP or practice nurse can answer any questions you have.
To find out more about the services we offer at Sussex Premier Health, please have a look at our current treatments and services.