A cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.
Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer; instead it checks the health of the cells of the cervix. Most women’s test results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 20 women the test will show some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.
Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. However, in certain circumstances, the abnormal cells need to be removed so that they cannot become cancerous.
About 3,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK, which amounts to 2% of all cancers diagnosed in women.
It’s possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition mainly affects sexually active women between the ages of 30 and 45. The condition is very rare in women under 25.
All women aged between 25 and 64 are invited for cervical screening. Women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for testing every three years, and women aged between 50 and 64 are invited every five years.
Being screened regularly means that any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing.
It is estimated that early detection and treatment can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers.
For more information please visit NHS Choices.