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About cervical screening

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is also known as a smear test. It is not a test for cancer but it is a test to check the health of the cervix, which is the lower part of the womb - just like you would go to the dentist to check the health of your teeth and gums.

It is a simple test which involves taking a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix to check everything is normal and healthy.

Why is cervical screening important?

Cervical screening can prevent cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities which if ignored, could lead to cancer in a woman's cervix (the neck of the womb).

Cervical screening saves approximately 4,500 lives per year in England.

Will I be offered screening?

  • The test is free and offered to all women aged between 25 and 64, regardless of sexuality or ethnic background.
  • You will be automatically invited every three years if aged between 25 - 49, and every 5 years if aged 50-64.
  • A letter will be sent to you, asking you to make an appointment.
  • You can request a female doctor or nurse to take your sample when you book the appointment.

If you have missed your appointment or have any unusual symptoms, such as irregular bleeding, don't wait for your letter - contact your GP straightaway!

If I have had the HPV vaccine should I still attend screening?

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus, a common infection transmitted through sexual contact. HPV is linked to the development of abnormal cervical cells which could develop into cervical cancer if left untreated. The HPV vaccine doesn't prevent against all types of cervical cancer and so even if you have had the vaccine, regular screening is still important, to make sure everything is OK.

Where should I go for screening?

Screening is done by your doctor or nurse at your GP practice, or can be requested at a family planning clinic (sexual health clinic). See for a list of places you can go in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland.

What should I do once I get the invitation letter?

Contact your GP practice or family planning clinic (sexual health clinic) to make your appointment. If you have any questions or concerns, your practice will be able to answer any queries.

What should I expect on the day?

A sample of cells is taken from the cervix to be checked. A doctor or nurse inserts an instrument (a speculum) to open the vagina and uses a small soft brush to sweep around the cervix. Most women consider the procedure to be only mildly uncomfortable and it takes just a few minutes.

What about the results?

You will be sent a letter to tell you the results within 2 weeks, with a copy sent to your GP as well.

  • For 90% of women the test result is normal and no further tests are needed until your next routine invitation in three to five years.
  • For around 1 in 10 women, the test will detect abnormal changes - the vast majority of which are not cancer but early treatment can prevent them from developing into anything nasty.

I'm too embarrassed to go for my smear test...

We know the idea of a smear test might be unpleasant but it's no more embarrassing than a bikini wax and could save your life!

Life is full of embarrassing moments - forgetting your purse at the checkout or getting food stuck in your teeth - but you will soon get over it.

You can ask for a female doctor or nurse and it will be all over in minutes - don't forget they have seen it all before!

So don't risk dying of embarrassment when it comes to cervical screening.

Do I still need a smear test if...

  • I've had the HPV vaccine?  YES
  • I'm in a same sex relationship?  YES
  • I'm not sexually active?  YES
  • I haven't had any new sexual partners recently?  YES
  • I'm fit and feeling perfectly healthy?  YES
  • I've just had a baby?  YES - you can usually attend from 12 weeks after giving birth
  • I don't have regular periods?  YES
  • I've already gone through the menopause?  YES
  • I've had a smear test before?  YES
  • I've had an abnormal result before?  YES
  • I'm under 25?  NO - you should wait to receive an invitation letter (unless you have symptoms as noted below)

Whatever your age, if you have symptoms such as irregular bleeding, don't wait for your screening invitation - contact your GP straight away.