What is the smear test?
In women the cervix lies at the top of the vagina and forms the entrance to the uterus (womb).
Following a recent in depth review the UK cervical screening programme has announced changes to both eligibility for cervical screening, screening intervals and the method used for testing.
- From 1st April 2004 women under the age of 25 will no longer be invited for a first routine cervical smear test (pap smear). However if you have already had a smear test before this date you will remain on the recall list.
- Screening intervals will vary according to age group as follows: (Women who have abnormalities or a higher risk of developing the disease should be screened more regularly)
25 ...........First invitation
25 - 49 ....3 yearly
50 - 64 ....5 yearly
65+ .........Only screen those who have not been screened since age 50 or have had recent abnormal tests.
- Later this year a new sampling method will be used which will reduce the incidence of inadequate smears which need to repeated for technical reasons.
The smear test is not a test for cancer, but for the detection of changes in the cells of the cervix which may have the potential to become cancerous in the future. If detected early treatment of abnormal cells is simple and effective, and can prevent a cancer from developing.
No screening test is 100% effective. Regular smears every three years can help ensure most abnormal changes will be detected. The most common form of cervical cancer is slow growing and may take up to 15 years to develop. However there are other rarer types of cervical cancer which this test may not detect, so a combination of regular smear testing along with prompt reporting of any symptoms such as bleeding after sex, pain or discharge, is important.
Last updated: 22/09/2010