Cervical Screening

Dr Tracy Owen -

Quality Assurance Director, Cervical Screening Programme

The aim of the cervical screening programme is to prevent cancer.  By detecting abnormal changes to the cells that line the cervix, screening can mean that these abnormalities are treated before they have the potential to develop into cancer.  About 7 in every 10 cervical cancers can be prevented by screening.

In Northern Ireland cervical screening (often called a smear test) is offered to all women aged 25 – 64.  This is the age group where screening has been shown to be of most benefit. 

We also know that almost all cervical cancers are caused by infection with the high risk types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).  A vaccine against two of the high risk types of HPV has been offered to teenage girls in Northern Ireland since 2008, and testing for high risk HPV is also now part of the screening pathway for some samples, improving how we identify women who may need further investigation and treatment.

But the cervical screening programme is more than just a test. It involves a structured process for identifying eligible women, sending invites, taking the test, laboratory reporting and following up all abnormal results.  This is monitored to ensure women are provided with a high quality service that meets agreed national standards.

Each year in Northern Ireland, about 103 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 22 women die from the disease.  Cervical screening remains the best way that women can protect themselves against developing cervical cancer.

On this website you will find further information about the screening process and what to expect when you attend for an appointment. The NI Cervical Screening Programme has produced a video showing a woman’s journey through screening and this can be viewed alongside the information leaflets.

I hope you find this useful and that it helps you to make an informed choice as to whether you take up your invitation to attend for screening.