A cervical smear test is offered to all sexually active women over the age of 25, every 3 years.
The advisory committee on cervical screening recommends the following:
- Women aged under 25 should not be screened.
- Women aged 25-49 should be screened every 3 years.
- Women aged 50-64 should be screened every 5 years.
- Women over 65, should only be screened if they haven't had had screening from aged 50, or have had recent abnormal tests.
A nurse will take a small sample of cells from the cervix (the neck of the womb which can be felt at the top of the vagina), wipe these on to a glass slide (hence the word ‘smear'!) and send the slide to the laboratory, where it is checked for abnormalities which might become cancerous at some time in the future. If such abnormalities are seen, the woman is usually asked to have another test about 6 months later.
Women who have normal smear results can be reassured that they are at a low risk of developing cervical cancer.
Smears cannot be taken during your period, as blood will obscure the cells.
Who is at risk?
All sexually active women should be tested; discuss with the nurse if you are worried. Smoking and a history of genital warts may put you at higher risk. Smears are not the same as swab tests for vaginal infections, although they are taken in a similar way. This includes lesbian and bisexual women. Further guidance and information can be found here.
This simple test could prevent you developing cervical cancer.
What if I have an abnormal result?
If your smear test shows changes which might be serious, you may be asked to have a colposcopy. A gynaecologist in an outpatient clinic carries this out; the doctor will examine the cervix and treat any significant abnormalities using a laser or by freezing, so the abnormal cells are removed before they become cancerous.
Breast screening is a method of detecting breast cancer at a very early stage. The first step involves an X-ray of each breast - a mammogram - which is taken while carefully compressing the breast. Most women find it a bit uncomfortable and a few find it painful. The mammogram can detect small changes in breast tissue which may indicate cancers which are too small to be felt either by the woman herself or by a doctor.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme provides free breast screening every three years for all women in the UK aged 50 and over. Women aged between 50 and 70 are now routinely invited.
Bowel Cancer Screening
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 69. People over 70 can request a screening kit by calling a freephone helpline when the programme reaches their area.
Aortic Aneurysm Screening
All men will be automatically invited for screening in the year they turn 65. Men who are older than 65, and who have not previously been screened or treated for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, will be able to opt-in through self referral direct to the
West Sussex AAA Screening Programme 01243 831503.