Cervical Screening

NCA is committed to increasing uptake of the cancer screening programmes.

Cancer screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs of disease.

It can save lives by finding cancers at an early stage, or even preventing them. Screening is not the same as the tests a person may have when doctors are diagnosing or treating cancer.

For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers or abnormalities that could lead to cancer
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do
Benefits and risks of cervical screening

We know that cancer screening saves thousands of lives each year. It can detect cancers at an early stage and in some cases, even prevent cancers from developing in the first place.

Cervical screening is a way of preventing cancer by finding and treating abnormal cell changes in the neck of the womb (cervix). These changes could lead to cancer if left untreated.

The screening uses a test called cytology, which many people may know as the smear test. A nurse or doctor takes a sample of cells from the cervix with a small brush. They send the sample to a laboratory to check for abnormalities.

In some cases, the samples are also tested for the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus increases the risk of cervical cancer.

For more information on cervical screening


Cervical screening informed choice leaflet for women with mental illness and/or who have experienced trauma

This patient information leaflet has been produced by University of Surrey in collaboration with service users, service user groups and health professionals. It is designed to support women with lived experience of mental illness and/or trauma to attend their cervical screening appointment. To access a free copy of the leaflet please click here and to view the patient animated information film, please click here.

Cervical Screening with Learning Disability – Support Materials for Sample Takers

Resources which have been developed to support women with a learning disability accessing cervical screening

Promoting access to cancer screening for people with a learning disability

A social care guidance and resource pack for providers of learning disability services.

Patient Screening Information – Easy Read Formats

Public Health England produced easy read patient information for cervical screening – please click here to access a copy.

The PHE Screening team

Public Health England (PHE) existed to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It closed on 30 September 2021 and this blog is no longer updated.

Find out more about the implications for health screening in our Changes ahead for the national screening system blog article.

If you want to stay in touch with screening evidence and policy news, you can subscribe to the UK National Screening Committee blog.