Cervical screening (smear tests)

Please note that Umbrella no longer provides cervical screening services. Please see below for details of how and where to get tested.

The aim of a cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is to detect abnormal cells on the cervix (the entrance to the womb) which could lead to cervical cancer.

Why are women screened?

While screening does not test for cancer of the cervix, detecting and removing these harmful cells can prevent this type of cancer from forming.

Screening finds abnormal changes in cervical cells in only around 1 in 20 women. For most women who show these changes they won’t lead to cervical cancer, but sometimes the cells need to be removed before they become cancerous.

Cervical cancer makes up about 2% of all cancers diagnosed in women in the UK each year.

While the chances of developing cervical cancer are relatively low, it’s estimated that screening can prevent up to 75% of cases of cervical cancer. It’s therefore important for women to be regularly screened to ensure any abnormal changes to cells which could lead to cancer are found early.

Who is screened?

Cervical cancer mainly affects women who are aged 30 – 45 and who are having sex. It is rare in women aged under 25.

Women aged 25 – 64 who are registered with a GP practice are invited for cervical screening as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.

Women aged 25 – 49 should be screened every three years. For women aged 50 – 64, the test should be done every five years.

Where is the cervical screening test done?

Cervical screening is not carried out at Umbrella clinics or pharmacies, but if you’re a woman aged 25 – 64 and you’re registered with a GP, you should receive a letter inviting you for a screening test.

If you think your screening test is overdue, or if you’re not sure when your next test should be, please speak to your GP or practice nurse. Your GP practice should also be able to answer any questions you have about the Cervical Screening Programme.

What does the cervical screening test involve?

The test usually takes around five minutes.

The doctor or nurse will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum allows them to see your cervix by holding open the walls of your vagina. The doctor or nurse will then use a small, soft brush to take some cells from your cervix.

For most women the procedure is not painful, but some people may find it embarrassing or uncomfortable.

The sample of cervical cells will then be sent to a laboratory where it will be examined under a microscope for abnormal cells.

Further information

For full details of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, including what to do if you’re not registered with a GP, please visit the NHS Choices website.

NHS Cervical Screening Programme