Who the cervical screening programme is for
Cervical screening is for women aged 25 to 64. From age 25, you are recommended to attend every three years. From age 50, you are recommended to attend every five years.
Why you should attend
Most cervical cancers occur in women aged 25 to 64. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer occurring in women aged 35 and under.
The screening test is designed to detect human papillomavirus (HPV). Some high-risk types of HPV can lead to abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. If your sample is HPV positive, it will also be tested for abnormal cervical cells.
Learn more about HPV and how it can lead to cancer.
Most women (around 85 to 90%) will receive a negative HPV screening result. In a small number of women with a positive high-risk HPV result, cervical abnormalities will also be detected. Early detection is important as treatment can be given in an out-patient clinic at the hospital. Regular screening between the ages of 25 to 64 can stop around 75% of cervical cancers developing.
How to register for cervical screening
You won't automatically be invited for screening when you reach 25 or when you move to the island.
You need to book your first appointment with your GP surgery. You can ask for an appointment with a female doctor or nurse. You'll then be invited every three or five years, depending on your age.
The cervical screening test and consultation are free at GP surgeries in Jersey. Cervical screening is also free at The Community Contraception Centre at Le Bas Centre.
Your cervical screening appointment and what to expect
Reliability of cervical screening
Cervical screening can prevent about 75% of cervical cancers developing but the test isn't perfect. It may not always detect early cell changes that may lead to cancer.
Why women under 25 aren't routinely screened
Cervical screening is not suitable for women under 25. This is because it can do more harm than good.
It’s common for younger women to have abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes these changes. Most HPV infections are sexually transmitted and most of us will get HPV at some point in our life. In most cases, especially in under 25s, our immune system gets rid of the HPV and any cell changes go back to normal.
Having treatment under the age of 25 for cell changes that would disappear on their own can result in an increased risk of miscarriage or premature birth in a future pregnancy. In addition treatment would cause unnecessary anxiety and distress for young women.
The expert UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) doesn’t recommend cervical screening under the age of 25. Evidence shows, in a population overall, that it can do younger women more harm than good.
Jo's Trust national charity explains why screening is not advisable in under 25s.
Women of any age who have symptoms, whether pain, bleeding or discharge, should see their GP for assessment.
What to do if you have symptoms
Why the offer of screening stops at age 64
Cervical screening helps prevent cervical cancer because it can find and enable a specialist doctor to remove abnormal cells before they have a chance to turn cancerous.
Cervical cancer usually develops very slowly. It's estimated that it takes between 10 and 20 years for HPV infection to develop into abnormal cervical cells and then on into cervical cancer.
As cervical cancer develops so slowly, it is highly unlikely that women over 64 who have been regularly screened will go on to develop the disease.
If your final three screening tests running up to turning 65 have had normal results, then you won’t receive any further cervical screening.
If you reach age 65 and you have never had cervical screening, speak with your GP/Nurse.
Cervical screening myths explained
The truths behind some of the most common cervical cancer screening myths
Cervical screening is a test for cervical cancer
No. Cervical screening is a test to prevent cancer. It looks for conditions that may lead to cervical cancer, which can be detected years before cancer develops.
Cervical cancer is eminently preventable – that's why it is important to have your cervical screen when you are invited.
Cervical screening is only for people who have had sex
While sexual history may influence someone's risk, it shouldn't determine whether or not they can have cervical screening.
If someone believes that cervical screening is only for people who have had sex because they believe cervical cancer is caused by sex, this is also a myth. You can talk to the patient about HPV, transmission and how common the virus is.
I don't need cervical screening if I'm gay
This is one of the most worrying myths about cervical screening. HPV isn't fussy - it can be passed on by any intimate contact, not just heterosexual vaginal sex.
Cervical screening is painful
Cervical screening is not usually painful. Most GPs and practice nurses are very good at doing the tests, and all would want you to tell them if you feel pain, so they can change what they are doing to make it more comfortable.
Cervical screening is embarrassing
Your nurse or doctor will have performed lots of cervical screening tests. For them, it's not remotely awkward. In fact, it's a positive part of their day, because they know they could be making a real difference. If you'd rather have a female nurse or doctor perform your cervical screening, that can be arranged.
You hop up on the couch, hidden behind a screen, and the procedure is over in minutes. Let the person doing your cervical screening know if you want them to tell you what they're doing at every step.
Cervical screening detects all kinds of female cancer
No, the test is designed to detect pre-cancerous changes of the cervix only. If left untreated these changes may progress to cancer. Like any medical test, smears are not 100% perfect and may miss some pre-cancers. Going for a regular cervical screening appointment is the best way to avoid a missed cancer.
My cervical screening was negative so I can't have cervical cancer
No, the test is designed to detect pre-cancerous changes and may miss a cervical cancer. If you have bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods, or have an abnormal discharge (for you) from your vagina, you should see your GP, ask them to look at your cervix and ask them for a screen for sexually transmitted infections. It's unlikely these symptoms mean you have cancer or an infection, but it's important to be checked. Cervical cancer and infections are all very treatable, but treatment becomes harder the longer the problem goes undetected.
I've had normal cervical screening for 30 years - I'm not going to get cancer now
Cancer can happen at any age and you are still at risk during your 50s and later in life. You've prioritised your health until now. Please don't stop getting your cervical screening until your medical practitioner tells you it's safe to stop.
If I develop signs of cancer, I can always go for cervical screening then
By the time you develop signs of cervical cancer, it's likely to be more advanced and any treatment you have may need to be more extensive. You're far better off having changes picked up at an early stage, where minor treatment (often done within minutes in an outpatient clinic) can solve the issue.