Cervical screening – what is it and why is it so important?

The cervix is the opening to the womb from your vagina. 


Cervical screening  is free NHS screening for women between the age of 25 – 64 years old, that can detect abnormalities /or early signs within the cervical cells ( neck of the womb)  that may turn into cancer over a period of time. It is not a test for cancer but can detect early changes within the cells of the cervix that left untreated may take the wrong pathway. All women who are registered with a GP as female will be invited for cervical screening by post and Trans men who were female at birth are entitled to the screening. The sample is checked for Human papillomavirus ( HPV), as it is known that certain “high risk” HPV’s can cause changes within the cells of the cervix. Should one of the high risk HPV’s be detected, the cells are then checked for changes that can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer. If HPV is detected, you may be asked to have a repeat cervical smear test in 1 year or be referred for a colposcopy at the hospital ( a simple procedure to look at the cervix). HPV is a common virus and you can get it through any sexual contact. Most women will be HPV negative on their cervical screening and therefore at low risk of developing abnormal (cancerous cells) and will be asked to have a repeat smear in 3-5 years (depending on your age).

Cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women under the age of 35. With cervical screening and the detection of precancerous cells, it can be avoidable.

It takes approximately 5 minutes for the cervical screening test and the whole appointment lasts 10 minutes in total. It is usually performed by a practice nurse or nurse practitioner at the GP surgery. For more information regarding the screening please seen the NHS website:

What happens at a cervical screening appointment – NHS – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

It is not unusual to be called for cervical screening (smear test) or colposcopy during pregnancy. It is more difficult to obtain clear results from the test during pregnancy as the results are more difficult to interpret. If you are called for a routine smear test and you think you might be or are pregnant, if you inform your GP surgery, it can be postponed until 3 months after the pregnancy. It is important to make a note for yourself to ensure that you arrange this postnatally.

If it is not a routine smear test but a repeat following a previous abnormality, you can still have the test during the pregnancy but it would be performed between 3 -6 months gestation. 

If you are waiting for results of a smear test and have found out you are pregnant, depending on the results, it may still be indicated that you attend a colposcopy appointment for assessment of the cervix if the results are abnormal. It is found to be safe and will not harm your baby to attend for a colposcopy assessment. There are some situations when assessment and or treatment can be safely delayed until after the pregnancy. If you are due a follow up smear and or colposcopy and are pregnant, it is important to discuss this with your GP and or clinic.

Further information can also be obtained from the charity, Jo’s trust at the following link:

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust | Cervical Cancer Charity (jostrust.org.uk)

Debbie Hamilton-Rose – Nurse practitioner/sonographer

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