Cervical screeningWhy it's important

Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

Cervical screening checks the health of your cervix. It's not a test for cancer, it's a test to help prevent cancer.

How cervical screening helps prevent cancer

Cervical screening may check for:

  • abnormal cell changes in your cervix – left untreated, this could turn into cancer
  • HPV – some types of HPV can lead to cell changes in your cervix and cancer

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a very common group of viruses.

You can get it from any kind of skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, not just from penetrative sex.

Most people will get some type of HPV during their lives.

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infection with certain types of HPV.

Find out more about what HPV is

Important

Finding cell changes early means they can be monitored or treated.

This means they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

Who's at risk of cervical cancer

If you have a cervix and have had any kind of sexual contact, with a man or a woman, you could get cervical cancer.

You're still at risk of cervical cancer if:

  • you have had the HPV vaccine – it does not protect you from all types of HPV, so you're still at risk of cervical cancer
  • you have only had 1 sexual partner – you can get HPV the first time you're sexually active
  • you have had the same partner, or not had sex, for a long time – you can have HPV for a long time without knowing it
  • you're a lesbian or bisexual – you're at risk if you have had any sexual contact
  • you're a trans man with a cervix – read about if trans men should have cervical screening
  • you have had a partial hysterectomy that did not remove all of your cervix

Find out if you need cervical screening if you're a virgin

Cervical screening is a choice

It's your choice if you want to go for cervical screening. But cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect you from cervical cancer.

Risks of cervical screening

You may have some light bleeding or spotting after cervical screening. This should stop within a few hours.

If abnormal cells are found and you need treatment, there are some risks, such as:

  • treating cells that may have gone back to normal on their own
  • bleeding or an infection
  • you may be more likely to have a baby early if you get pregnant in the future – but this is rare

For more information to help you decide, read the NHS cervical screening leaflet.

How to opt out

If you do not want to be invited for screening, contact your GP and ask to be taken off their cervical screening list.

You can ask them to put you back on the list at any time if you change your mind.

Page last reviewed: 25/02/2019
Next review due: 25/02/2022