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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The cervical screening test used to be called the smear test.

A sample of cells is taken from the cervix (the neck of the womb, at the top of the vagina) using a soft brush. The sample is first tested for high-risk types of human papillomavirus. This is because the cell changes that lead to nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by high-risk HPV.

If high-risk HPV is not found in the sample, then the cells do not need to be looked at. This happens in nearly 9 out of every 10 samples.

If high-risk HPV is found in the sample, the cells in the sample are looked at under a microscope by a screener to check for any changes.

If the cells are normal, a repeat cervical screening test will be done after 12 months to see whether the high-risk HPV is still present. If it is still there, the cells will be checked again.

If the cells show any changes, then some further investigations will be needed.

Cervical screening is a very good test for picking up cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer, but it is not perfect.

Although it is rare, the screening test may not pick up cell changes, or even cancer.

Even if you have had no high-risk HPV found on your screening test or you have had normal screening tests in the past, it is very important to report any new symptoms to your doctor. These symptoms include:

  • Bleeding after sex.
  • Bleeding between periods.
  • Bleeding after the menopause.
  • Vaginal discharge that is unusual for you – it may have a different smell, look or consistency (for example, it may be thicker).
  • Pain during or after sex.
  • Lower back or tummy pains.

There is no evidence that cervical cancer runs in families.  


No, there is no known family link in cervical cancer unlike some other cancers, so there is no need to have tests more often. 

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