Cervical Screening Awareness Week: Why It's Important

Cancer / Women's Health

Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

How cervical screening helps prevent cancer

Cervical screening checks the health of your cervix and helps find any abnormal changes before they can turn into cancer. It's not a test for cancer, it's a test to help prevent cancer. Cervical screening checks a sample of cells from your cervix for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

These types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to the cells in your cervix and are called "high risk" types of HPV. If high risk types of HPV are found during screening, the sample of cells is also checked for abnormal cell changes. If abnormal cells are found, they can be treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

What is HPV?

HPV is the name for a very common group of viruses. Most people will get some type of HPV during their lives. It's very common and nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. You can get HPV from any kind of skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, not just from penetrative sex.

Some types of high risk types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. In most cases your body will get rid of HPV without it causing any problems. But sometimes HPV can stay in your body for a long time.

If high risk types of HPV stay in your body, they can cause changes to the cells in your cervix. These changes may become cervical cancer if not treated. If you do not have a high risk type of HPV it's very unlikely you'll get cervical cancer, even if you've had abnormal cell changes in your cervix before.

Who's at risk of cervical cancer

If you have a cervix and have had any kind of sexual contact, with a man or a woman, you could get cervical cancer. This is because nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infection with high risk types of HPV. 

You're still at risk of cervical cancer if:

  • you've had the HPV vaccine – it does not protect you from all types of HPV, so you're still at risk of cervical cancer
  • you've only had 1 sexual partner – you can get HPV the first time you're sexually active
  • you've had the same partner, or not had sex, for a long time – you can have HPV for a long time without knowing it
  • you're a lesbian or bisexual – you're at risk if you've had any sexual contact
  • you're a trans man with a cervix
  • you've had a partial hysterectomy that did not remove all of your cervix

If you've never had any kind of sexual contact with a man or woman, you may decide not to go for cervical screening when you're invited. But you can still have a test if you want to. If you're not sure whether to have cervical screening, talk to your GP or nurse.

Cervical screening is a choice

It's your choice if you want to go for cervical screening. But cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect you from cervical cancer.

Risks of cervical screening

You may have some light bleeding or spotting after cervical screening. This should stop within a few hours. If abnormal cells are found and you need treatment, there are some risks, such as:

  • treating cells that may have gone back to normal on their own
  • bleeding or an infection
  • you may be more likely to have a baby early if you get pregnant in the future – but this is rare

How to opt out

If you do not want to be invited for screening, contact your GP and ask to be taken off their cervical screening list. You can ask them to put you back on the list at any time if you change your mind.

Cancer Useful Resources

The Macmillan Online Community is a free online place for people who are living with or...
We're always looking for enthusiastic people to help with our work. We have a range of...
Whether you need help defining sparse brows and lashes, caring for nails that are...
Each month we run an online support group for men on active surveillance - a form of...
There are hundreds of prostate cancer support groups in the UK. We have details of many...
Call us for free, unbiased, confidential support and information. There's no such thing...
Someone is diagnosed every 15 minutes. What do you know about bowel cancer? Book a free...
Treatment for cancer may mean you have to make many visits to hospital to see your...
Macmillan Grants are a one-off payment of £350 to help with the extra costs that living...
We have a team of trained volunteers throughout the UK who carry out talks to groups both...
Living with prostate cancer can be hard to deal with emotionally, as well as physically...
We’re a community of people in the UK receiving immunotherapy treatment for bowel cancer...
Cancer Focus NI can provide a wide range of presentations to meet the needs of your...
Writing is well-known to have therapeutic benefits – it gives you a voice and a way of...
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they may experience feelings of shock, anger, or...
As part of this community, you can talk about whatever you want, from diagnosis to...
The important thing to remember when you’re affected by prostate disease is that you’re...
We’re a supportive and safe place for people with stage 4 bowel cancer living in the UK,...
The Quick Fit programme offers positive steps to improve your health through diet and...
Affected by breast cancer? Join this group to share experiences and ask questions to...
Thrive is a community and safe space for younger women to connect with and support each...
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they may experience feelings of shock, anger, or...
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they may experience feelings of shock, anger, or...
The Cancer Focus NI Well Aware service is aimed at the over 60s and is offered in a range...
Macmillan nurses are specialist cancer nurses with experience and qualifications in...
Prostate Cancer UK have a team of trained volunteers throughout the UK who carry out...
Bowel Cancer UK Community — a place for anyone affected by bowel cancer to talk about...
After surgery and treatment for breast cancer, some women feel less confident about their...
Cancer Focus NI is the only local cancer charity to provide a free cancer information and...
LearnZone provides free and easy access to a wide variety of learning resources , online...
Cancer Focus Northern Ireland’s Email Forum – or E Forum – helps us keep up to date with...
Going through cancer can be an isolating experience at any time, and especially when...
A healthy diet and regular physical activity may help you manage the effects of prostate...
We rely on our incredible volunteers to help us spread the word about prostate cancer,...
We know that money is a big and often difficult thing to talk about when you’re living...
There are a number of health campaigns throughout the year to raise awareness of...
Cancer Focus NI’s Art therapy service is for anyone affected by cancer. Art therapy helps...
Bupa is working in partnership with Macmillan to offer up to 6 free one-to-one...
Cancer Focus Northern Ireland’s Email Forum – or E Forum – helps us keep up to date with...
Fatigue support is a telephone programme which includes 4 appointments with a Specialist...
The Sexual support service is a chance for you, or your partner, to talk to one of our...
Welcome to the Caregiver Help & Support group. We're a supportive and safe place for...
‘Engage’ training is a comprehensive one day programme which seeks to address the current...
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they may experience feelings of shock, anger, or...
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they may experience feelings of shock, anger, or...
When an adult in the family is diagnosed with cancer it affects the entire family. It can...
There are so many ways to get involved, from cheering on a marathon runner to...
Cancer Focus NI, Keeping Well vans are mobile drop-in units which bring health checks,...
Our nurses are here to help. They can provide you with information, and signpost you to...
Zest for Life is a free 6-week programme led by a Cancer Focus NI facilitator. The course...
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they may experience feelings of shock, anger, or...
Track your treatment and wellbeing
Support for breast cancer
Prostate Cancer UK launched a campaign to encourage men at higher risk of prostate cancer...

Cancer Articles & Videos

Cancer Helplines & Web Chats

Marie Curie - Helpline
Cancer Research UK - Helpline
Bowel Cancer UK - Forum
Bowel Cancer UK - Ask a Nurse
Macmillan Helpline
Cancer Focus - Nurse Line
Macmillan - Forum
Prostate Cancer UK - Forum
Macmillan - Ask an expert
Prostate Cancer UK - Specialist Nurse
Macmillan - Bereavement Forum