About cervical screening
Cervical Screening (also known as a smear test) is a test that will not cost you anything and helps prevent cervical cancer.
The test can be undertaken at:
- your GP surgery
- our specialist Sexual Health clinics at the General Hospital
- Le Bas Centre
The test will check the health of the cervix (neck of the womb). This involves taking a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix. This allows us to detect human papillomavirus (HPV) and to spot abnormal changes in the cervix.
It is important that you go for screening. Finding changes in the cervix before they become cancerous gives you the best possible chance of successful treatment.
Who the cervical screening programme is for
Everyone with a cervix between age 25 and 64 is eligible and encouraged to have cervical screening.
Factors such as sexual history, number of sexual partners and whether people are in a different sex or same sex relationship do not affect this. If you have ever had any sexual contact you should book your first cervical screening test and attend for appointments when you are invited.
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, our specialist Sexual Health clinics at the General Hospital or Le Bas Centre.
Once registered, you will be invited for cervical screening every 3 years from the age of 25 and every 5 years from the ages of 50 to 64.
Your cervical screening (smear test) appointment and what to expect.
Information for trans men and women and / or non-binary individuals
Trans men and non-binary people assigned female at birth
Registered with a GP as female
If you are aged 25 to 64 and registered with a GP as female, after booking your first cervical screening appointment you will be routinely invited for cervical screening. We recommend that you have cervical screening if you have not had a total hysterectomy and still have a cervix.
Registered with a GP as male
If you are aged 25 to 64 and registered with a GP as male and if you have not had a total hysterectomy and still have a cervix, you should still have cervical screening. If this applies to you, let your GP or practice nurse or sexual health clinic know so you can talk to them about having cervical screening.
Trans women and non-binary people assigned male at birth
If you are a trans woman or non-binary person assigned male at birth you do not need to book an appointment for cervical screening as you do not have a cervix.
Information for trans men and / or non-binary individuals
Why you should attend
Most cervical cancers occur in people aged 25 to 64. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer occurring in those 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 people (around 85 to 90%) will receive a negative HPV screening result. In the small number 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.
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 we don't routinely screen under 25's
Cervical screening is not suitable for those under 25. This is because it can do more harm than good.
It’s common for younger people 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 25's, 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 people.
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 more harm than good.
Jo's Trust national charity explains why screening is not advisable in under 25s.
Those 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 those 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.
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.