Overview of Cervical Screening Programme

Overview of the Cervical Screening Programme

Screening is designed for women who are well and have no symptoms.  If you develop any symptoms which you are concerned about, at any age, such as an unusual discharge or bleeding, you should report these to your doctor rather than wait until your next screening test. This includes bleeding after sex, between periods or after the menopause.  

Screening aims to prevent cervical cancer by detecting early pre-cancerous changes in the cells that line the cervix.  The cervix is the lower part of the womb, and by taking a sample of cells (often called a smear test), the health of the cervix can be checked on a regular basis. Any abnormal changes can then be treated, preventing them from potentially developing into cancer.

It is recommended that all women aged between 25 and 64 years, who have ever been sexually active, have regular screening tests. Women aged 25-49 are invited every three years, while those aged 50-64 are invited every five years.

Most women's test results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 10 women the test will show some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

What causes these changes?

Most changes are caused by infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).  There are over 100 types of HPV but only a small number of these are known to be linked to cervical cancer (called high risk HPV types).  HPV is a very common infection and most women will get it at some time in their life.  It doesn’t produce any symptoms so you will not even know you have it. In most cases the infection clears up by itself but in some women it may persist, causing damage and changes to the cells of the cervix.

How will I be called for screening?

All women who fall within the screening age range are automatically invited to attend for a screening test.  You will need to be registered with a GP as this is how the programme obtains your name.  It is important that your GP always has your correct name and address to make sure you receive your invitation for cervical screening.

Going for a smear test

Screening is carried out by a nurse or doctor at your GP practice or you can go to a sexual and reproductive health (family planning) clinic.

Details of clinics in your area which may provide cervical screening are found on the following links.  You may need to contact the clinic in advance to check that they provide this service and to make an appointment.


 Trust                      link to clinic details
Northern Trust


Southern Trust  


Western Trust


Belfast Trust  http://www.belfasttrust.hscni.net/pdf/Clinic_Sechedule.pdf
SE Trust




The test only takes about ten minutes to carry out.  It should not be painful, but some women may find it slightly uncomfortable.  The sample is sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.  For more details about the test you can read our leaflet “It’s best to take the test”.  You can also find out more by watching our film “What happens at cervical screening.”

Your Result

Your result should be available within four weeks.  The person taking your test will tell you how and where to get your result.  Make sure you’ve been given this information before leaving the GP practice or clinic.

What happens to my sample?

The laboratory that looks at your sample will keep the slide for about 10 years. This is so they can compare your latest test result with the ones that you have had before.

If you need any further information on how your records are kept and used, you can contact the Young Person and Adult Screening Team in the Public Health Agency on 0300 555 0114 or screening.cervical@hscni.net