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The cervical smear test is a screening test which checks to see if the cells that make up the surface of the neck of your womb (cervix) are normal. It aims to identify any abnormalities, which can be simply and effectively treated.
In order to check that no abnormalities have occurred since your last smear, it is important to have regular smear tests. This is an effective method of identifying any abnormal changes in the cells, which are present at the time you have the test. In the UK, the smear test saves over 1,000 lives every year and has prevented 8 out of 10 cervical cancers developing. However, it cannot prevent all cases.
All sexually-active women between the ages of 20 and 60 should have regular cervical smears.
Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women under 35.
On average, 21 women die each week due to cervical cancer.
Having regular cervical smears makes it more likely that canceerous or pre-cancerous changes will be detected, so it is important to attend for cervical screening when called.
The recommended frequency for women over the age of 20 years is once every three years. Normally you will be sent a letter when you are due, but if you think you need one it is recommended you phone the surgery and check.
Ocassionally, a result is returned that indicates that it is a good idea to have a higher frequency of smears. In this case, you may be asked to attend for a smear annually. It is not something to worry about; it is just an extra precaution.
It is also important to see a doctor as soon as possible any time you have any unusual discharge or bleeding, including bleeding after sex, between periods or after the menopause.
Your GP's surgery will often offer a smear test. Your GP (or a specially trained practice nurse) may take your smear. Some surgeries run a Women's Clinic. You can also make an appointment to have your smear taken at your local Well Women or Family Planning Clinic.
Make sure you make an appointment for a day when you will not have your period, as the nurse or doctor who takes the smear needs to be able to see the cervix clearly.
NHS Health Scotland has produced a series of leaflets on cervical screening: Cervical Screening at NHS Health Scotland.
We have reproduced two of the leaflets for women with learning difficulties on the website: