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What is cervical screening


About Cervical Screening

There are about 160 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year in Wales.

It is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35.

Regular Screening can reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer by 70%

Screening can pick up cell changes and, if needed, these changes can be treated to prevent a cancer developing.

Screening is a test for cell changes that could lead to cancer if left untreated. Screening is not a test for cancer, but sometimes the test does pick up early cancers. Cervical cancers found early are easier to treat.

Cervical Screening Wales is responsible for the NHS cervical screening programme in Wales, including sending invitations.  We get your details from your doctor's list, so it is important that your doctor has your correct name and address.


What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb). Almost all cases are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). This is a very common virus that most people will have at some time during their life.

Only certain types of HPV cause cervical cancer. Your cervical screening (smear) test will look for high-risk types of HPV. By finding cell changes early, screening can prevent cervical cancer from developing. 


Changes to the Cervical Screening Wales programme from January 2022 for those aged 25-49

From January 1st 2022, Cervical Screening Wales will be changing when we invite women and people with a cervix for routine screening.

If HPV is not found in your next routine cervical screening sample, we will send your next invitation in five years, regardless of age. This is because evidence tells us that the risk of developing cervical cancer is very low.





Aim of the Cervical Screening Programme

Cervical Cancer can be prevented by regular cervical screening. The cervical screening programme has three main aims: -

  1. To reduce the number of cases of cervical cancer (incidence) by picking up cell changes before they become a cancer
  2. To reduce the number of deaths from cervical cancer (mortality) by stopping cancer from developing, or picking it up at an early stage
  3. To reduce the effects of cancer or cancer treatments on health (morbidity) by stopping cancer from developing, or picking it up at an early stage when it is much easier to treat

Who should have cervical screening?

If you are aged 25 to 64 and you have a cervix, you can have cervical screening. We will invite you for cervical screening if you are aged 25-64 and you are registered as female or unspecified with a GP surgery.

If you have a cervix but are registered as male, we will not be able to invite you for screening due to the current limitations of our database. You will need to arrange to have cervical screening with your GP or clinic

If we are told that you should not have screening, because you do not have a cervix, we will not invite you. This might be because you have had a hysterectomy, or because you are transgender.

If you think that you should be invited for screening and have not, please speak to your doctor or practice nurse.

How often do we invite people?

  • Women and people with a cervix aged 24-64 are invited every five years 

Are there any exceptions?

  • Individuals who need follow-up after cell changes will be invited even if under the age of 25 or over the age of 65 
  • Individuals with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are advised to be screened every year until the age of 65
  • If you are 65 or over and have never had a cervical screening (smear) test, then you are entitled to have one

For further information about cervical screening please go to Frequently Asked Questions below.

What about individuals who don't want to be screened?

If we do not receive a screening sample from you, we will send you a reminder letter six months after your invitation. If you decide you do not want to have screening, we will invite you again after three or five years, depending on your age.

If you do not want to be sent any invitations, you can contact Cervical Screening Wales and we will send you an ‘opt out’ form.

If you decide to opt out of screening, you can choose to 'opt in' again at any time.


Having a Cervical Screening (Smear) Test

Before the test is taken the sample taker will have a chat with you to: -

  • check your details
  • talk to you about what the test involves
  • ask about any problems you may have or medicines that you are taking

It is useful to know the date of your last period (if you are still having them).

You cannot have a test during your period, so please make sure you make an appointment before or after your period is due.

If you want to have someone in with you when you are having the test, please check when you make your appointment or ask the sample taker at the start of your appointment.

It is normal to feel embarrassed especially if it is your first test, please let your sample taker know if you feel worried or anxious about having the test.

You will need to remove your underwear. You will need to climb onto a couch and lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet on the couch. Some clinics have special couches, which support your legs.

If you have any physical disabilities or conditions that mean it would be difficult for you to be in this position, or to get onto the couch, please discuss this when you make the appointment. 
The person taking your test will then gently put a speculum into your vagina. Once inside, the speculum can be opened gently to allow your cervix to be seen.
Your cervix is the lower part of your womb (also called a 'uterus').  It is sometimes called the 'neck of the womb'.  Your cervix connects with the top end of your vagina.

The person taking your test needs to see your cervix before they can take the sample. Once they have seen your cervix, they then sweep a soft nylon brush over it to take a sample of cells. All sample takers take this sample in the same way.
Some individuals do not feel the sample being taken, but others can find it uncomfortable. It is not unusual to have a small amount of bleeding afterwards.

After the sample has been put into a pot of fluid, the speculum is gently removed. The sample is then sent to the laboratory.

For further information please go to Frequently Asked Questions below.


Remember: You can take somebody with your for support if you wish. Talk to your practice nurse if you have any concerns.