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For most women, cervical screening can prevent cancer.
Consultant gynaecological surgeon, Richard Smith explains cervical smear tests.
The information in this video was correct as of 1 December 2010.
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The cervical screening programme isn’t 100% effective, but regular cervical screening every 3-5 years is the best way to detect changes to the cells of the cervix. Almost half of the women who develop cervical cancer| in the UK have never had a cervical screening test.
Cervical screening, like other screening tests, isn’t perfect. So it is not always possible to detect early cell changes that can lead to cancer.
Abnormal cervical cells in your sample may not be recognised because:
Occasionally, a test will have to be taken again because:
Although every effort is made to ensure the screening programme works properly, very occasionally mistakes happen.
In recent years, the cervical screening programme has been improved so that mistakes are far less likely. All screening samples are now checked by two technicians so that the chance of missing an abnormality is greatly reduced.
Cervical screening is very effective at picking up early changes, but you should see your GP if you have any unusual symptoms|, such as bleeding after sex or between periods. If you have symptoms, you may need to be referred for tests.
The laboratory that looks at your sample will keep it for at least 10 years. Your latest result can then be compared with the ones you’ve had before. This is to make sure you get the treatment you may need. All screening records, including your samples, can be looked at again (reviewed) if needed.
On the rare occasion that a review shows you should have been cared for differently, you’ll be contacted. For more details about NHS record keeping you can contact NHS Direct|.
Content last reviewed: 1 October 2012
Next planned review: 2014
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
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It's up to you whether to go for cervical screening.
To help you make your decisions, our cancer information team have written a blog about cervical screening. Have a read and discuss what you're feeling in our online community.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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