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What is the cervical screening (smear) test?

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.