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Updated on March 25, 2022

Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in women after breast cancer

What is Cervical Cancer Screening?

Cervical cancer screening is used to detect any early changes in the cells of the cervix which could lead to cancer.   Around 80% of cervical cancer are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection which is transmitted during sexual activity. Most HPV infections cause only mild (low-grade) changes in cervical cells which return to normal when the infection clears. However, in some women, the HPV infection does not go away and may cause severe (high-grade) changes in the cells leading to cancer some years later.

Why is Cervical Cancer Screening important?

It usually takes several years for high-grade changes in cervical cells to become cancer. As such, cervical screening may detect these changes EARLY and treatment can be started before they become cancer.  Treatment at an early stage is (a) easier (b) may not require surgery and (c) has a higher chance of success.

Click to view NHS video on Cervical Screening test

What tests are used in Cervical Cancer Screening?

The tests involve taking some cells from your cervix to be sent to the laboratory for tests.

  • PAP (Papanicolou) test involves cervical cytology to look for pre-cancer and cancer cells
  • HPV test involves looking for the presence of genetic material of different sub-types of HPV
  • Cervical biopsy

Who should be screened?

Regular screening is recommended in young women from the ages of 21 to 65.  Screening is not beneficial for women older than 65 years if they have a history of negative results. 

  • Women between the age of 21-29 years should have a PAP test every 3 years
  • Women between the age of 30-65 years should have a PAP (plus HPV) test every 5 years

Women with the following risk factors may need MORE FREQUENT screening

  • A diagnosis of cervical cancer
  • Previous PAP test which showed pre-cancerous cells
  • Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or HIV infection

How to prepare for your Cervical Cancer Screening tests

  • Avoid sexual intercourse or using vaginal medications / hygiene products for 2-3 days before your test to prevent having false test results
  • Avoid cervical cancer screening when you are having your menstrual period

False test results can occur when there are insufficient cells collected or

when there are too many blood or inflammatory cells in the sample

Remember to do your woman’s health check and PAP smear regularly


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If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or other professional healthcare providers. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.