When cervical screening is offered 

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

This includes women who have had the HPV vaccination, as the vaccine does not guarantee complete protection against cervical cancer.

Women registered with a GP will receive a letter inviting them to make an appointment for screening. An information leaflet to help you decide whether to have cervical screening (PDF, 228kb) is included with the letter.

Women should normally be invited for cervical screening at the following times:

  • by the age of 25 you will receive your first invitation for screening (you could be invited up to six months before your 25th birthday and you can book your screening appointment as soon as you get the invitation)
  • when you are 25 to 49 years old you are invited for screening every three years
  • when you are 50 to 64 years old you are invited for screening every five years
  • when you are aged 65 or over you are only screened if you have not been screened since you were 50 or if you have had recent abnormal test results

If you have not 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 are overdue one.

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

If you are not registered with a GP practice, or if you don’t wish to be screened at your GP practice, you can arrange to have a cervical screening test at a well woman clinic, family planning clinic or at the genito-urinary medicine (GUM) department of your local hospital. You can use the postcode finder on sexual health charity FPA's website to find your nearest clinic.

If you are 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.

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 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 are not currently in a sexual relationship but have been in the past, it is recommended that you have regular cervical screening.

Pregnant women

Cervical screening tests are not usually recommended while you are pregnant, unless you have missed previous screening appointments or you have had abnormal results in the past.

If you are 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 are invited to cervical screening while pregnant and you are 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 are not invited for further cervical screening tests. This is because it is very unlikely that women in this group will go on to develop cervical cancer.

If you are over 64 and have had abnormal test results, you will 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 is not necessary for them.

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 are not part of the cervical screening programme.

Cervical cancer: Tina's story

Regular smear tests saved Tina's life and her fertililty. She talks about her experience of cervical cancer and her treatment. Note: the purpose of a smear is to detect pre-cancer, that is pre-invasive disease.

Media last reviewed: 04/03/2014

Next review due: 04/03/2016

Why aren't women under 25 routinely screened?

Women under the age of 25 are not 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 are concerned about other aspects of your sexual health, visit your GP or your local GUM clinic for advice.

Any woman under 25 with abnormal vaginal bleeding (after sex or in between periods) should see their GP. The GP should refer her to a gynaecologist for investigations. Cervical screening is not a test for symptoms.

Getting symptoms checked

If you have recently had a cervical screening test and the results were normal, but you then 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: 30/09/2013

Next review due: 30/09/2015