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Health Matters - cervical screening

Health Matters - cervical screening
16 January 2019

Katie Mills, GP nurse lead, NHS Eastern Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group

There are many reasons why women between the ages of 25 and 64 choose to not attend their cervical screening test, previously known as a smear test.

Some of the reasons for this might be that:

  • they are embarrassed about having a smear test
  • they are worried about the result of the test
  • they are concerned about the procedure and whether it will be painful
  • appointment times are inconvenient
  • they do not think they are at risk
  • they are simply unaware of screening.

The groups of people that often don’t attend their appointments include:

  • younger eligible women aged 25 to 29
  • women over 50
  • ethnic minorities
  • people from lower socio-economic groups
  • women with learning disabilities
  • lesbian and bisexual women.

To break down these barriers to cervical screening it is important to understand what the screening is for and what to expect.

All women between the ages of 25 and 64 who are registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening, women over 65 may also be invited if they have recently had abnormal test results or if they have never been for cervical screening. Trans men who still have a cervix and are still registered as female with a GP will also be invited for cervical screening. Trans men who are registered as male will need to let a GP or practice nurse know so they can organise the test.

You will receive a letter through the post asking you to make an appointment for a cervical screening test.

Cervical screening isn't a test for cancer, it's a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina. Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent cervical cancer. Most women's test results show that everything is normal but, for around one in 20 women, the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

It's possible for sexually active women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition is most common in women aged 30 to 45. The condition is very rare in women under 25.

  • 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 five minutes.
  • Some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing but, for most women, it isn't painful. 

To read about what happens during your cervical screening examination and for tips on how you can feel more comfortable, visit nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/ and jostrust.org.uk/about-cervical-cancer/cervical-screening/what-happens-during-cervical-screening.