When cervical screening is offered 

Women aged 25-64 who are registered with a GP are automatically invited for cervical screening.

This includes women who have had the HPV vaccination, as the vaccine doesn't guarantee complete protection against cervical cancer.

Invitation letters

Women registered with a GP will receive a letter inviting them to make an appointment, along with further information about cervical screening.

The letters should be sent out to women:

  • aged 25 to 49  every three years
  • aged 50 to 64  every five years
  • over 65  only women who haven't been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests 

Women under 25 could be invited up to six months before their 25th birthday and you can book your screening appointment as soon as you get the invitation.

If you haven't had a cervical screening test within the appropriate time, you may be offered one when you next visit your GP or family planning clinic. You can also contact your GP practice to book a screening appointment if you're overdue one.

Make sure your GP has your correct name and address, and let them know of any changes so you can be contacted when you're due to have a screening test.

If you're not sure when your next screening test should be, or if you have any questions about the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, ask your GP or practice nurse.

Alternative screening locations

If you're not registered with a GP practice, or if you don’t wish to be screened at your GP practice, screening may also be available at a well woman clinic or sexual health clinic.

Find your nearest sexual health services.

When a screening test may not be recommended

In some cases, you may not need cervical screening or it may be recommended that you delay having a screening test. These situations are described below.

Women with symptoms of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer screening is not a test for symptoms of cervical cancer. You should see your GP if you have symptoms such as:

  • unusual bleeding
  • pain and discomfort during sex
  • unusual vaginal discharge

If necessary, your GP can refer you to a gynaecologist.

Women who haven't had sex

The risk of cervical cancer is very low in women who have never had sex. As the risk is so low, women in this group may choose not to have cervical screening when invited.

However, if you're not currently in a sexual relationship but have been in the past, it's recommended that you have regular cervical screening.

Pregnant women

Cervical screening tests aren't usually recommended while you're pregnant, unless you've missed previous screening appointments or you've had abnormal results in the past.

If you're pregnant and have always attended your screening appointments without having abnormal results, it's usually recommended that you wait until three months after giving birth before having a screening test.

If you're invited to cervical screening while pregnant and you're unsure whether you need to be tested, contact your GP or practice nurse for advice.

Women aged 65 and over

Women aged 65 and over whose last three test results were normal aren't invited for further cervical screening tests. This is because it's very unlikely that women in this group will go on to develop cervical cancer.

If you're over 64 and have had abnormal test results, you'll continue to be invited for screening until the cells return to normal. Women aged 65 and over who have never had screening are entitled to a test.

Women who have had a total hysterectomy

Women who have had a total hysterectomy (an operation to remove the womb and cervix) will no longer be invited to attend cervical screening, as it's not necessary.

Women who have had a hysterectomy that has left all or part of the cervix in place will be invited for screening once their post-operative care has finished.

Women who have had a total hysterectomy to treat cancer, or who had cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN, a type of cervical cell change that can lead to cancer) at the time of having a total hysterectomy, may need another type of test called a vault smear.

This is where a sample of cells is taken from the vagina, close to where the cervix used to be. Vault smears are part of the follow-up treatment for hysterectomy and aren't part of the cervical screening programme.

Why aren't women under 25 routinely screened?

Women under the age of 25 aren't routinely invited for screening as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. This is because normal developmental cell changes in the cervix can look very similar to abnormal cell changes, leading to unnecessary treatment and worry. Cervical cancer is also very rare in this age group.

If you're under the age of 25 and worried about your risk of developing cervical cancer, or you're concerned about other aspects of your sexual health, visit your GP or your local GUM clinic for advice.

Getting symptoms checked

If you've recently had a cervical screening test and the results were normal, but you develop symptoms such as unusual vaginal bleeding, visit your GP or GUM clinic for a check-up.

There could be several different reasons for your symptoms, so further investigation is needed.

Page last reviewed: 07/09/2015

Next review due: 07/09/2017